In Between Here and There (A Story of an Environmentalist and a Drilling Company)

I love flying. I love the people watching in the airports, the international merging, the shameless snacking and more than anything, the overwhelming sense of being somewhere in between. In between what, of course, is personal for everyone. You will perhaps find yourself in between two places, Point A and Point B, nothing more. Perhaps you will find yourself in between two big life events, where your footsteps become the physical manifestation of your own emotional growth. Perhaps you will find yourself in between the retractable belt barriers in the security checkpoint, looking over your shoulder at what you are leaving behind while being ushered forward towards your next significant something. These in between moments often make me cry.

…Or perhaps you will find yourself simply stuck in economy class, in a center seat no less, with a broken TV screen, in between a screaming baby and an odorous elbower who smacks their gum and has the flu. These in between moments also make me cry.

I have experienced all of these in betweens. Some more than once. All have mattered, all have affected me for the better. And now I am writing my first ever blog from a brand new, exhilarating in between place in my life. Only my desk is by a window.

The Portland Carpet (PDXers will understand)

As my Iceland Air flight touches down in Copenhagen, I already feel the tingle of excitement in my stomach. The German word, “Fernweh” immediately comes to mind. There is no English translation for it, but simply put it means, “Homesickness for a place you’ve never been.”

Minutes before touchdown, I realize that I have just landed in my 25th country, a milestone I absolutely plan to celebrate before my two months are up.

I gather my belongings, passport at the ready, and follow the signs leading to the baggage claim. I get there in a record time of ten minutes, and realize I did not stop once. Oh no, I think. Was I so distracted that I somehow ingeniously snuck by airport security without having my passport stamped?! How did I get away with that?! Determined not to leave the airport undocumented, I drag my heavy suitcase to an information desk and explain myself.

“I think I snuck passed security by mistake,” I say. “Can you please point me in the right direction?”

The very tall man behind the desk laughs and shrugs. “What do you expect? You are in Denmark!”

Denmark. The land of no security checkpoints, where you can trust and be trusted. Not a bad first impression at all.

I soon learn of other wonderful things about Denmark that make me think, Yeah, there are reasons people seem so happy here. Sure, the Danes pay higher taxes, but I have yet to meet a single one that complains. They get free education and healthcare, for one; minimum wage is an average of $20 per hour; very flexible workdays; foreign language education is taught in primary schools; and of course, CYCLING.

Ahh, the cycling! The infrastructure is designed for it. The roads are typically divided into three sections:  a big road for cars, a walking path for pedestrians, and a cycling lane between the two that is wide enough for cyclists to pass each other. It is a far cry from the scarily narrow lanes on the streets I am used to in the United States. I am borrowing a bike from a generous colleague, and I use it daily. Already I am learning to do as the Danes do when it comes to getting around by bike: I have almost mastered the cold stare that is reserved especially for cyclists who do not signal, and I frequently cycle many miles at a time in a skirt and high heels.

Cycling in heels for the first the rain.

My living situation worked out beautifully. I am renting a room in the suburb of Lyngby (pronounced “Loong-boo”), only a 10 minute bike ride from my office at the Maersk Drilling Headquarters. Everything I need is here, including several miles of trails through a wonderful forest (the “Enchanted Forest”, I call it). On the weekends I rent horses from a stable nearby and gallop through it. It is my favorite pastime.

My new Danish manHorsing through the Lyngby forest on the weekends

Downtown Copenhagen is also very fun. It stays light until 11:30PM, so my new friends and I often find ourselves completely lost in the “nightlife” without even realizing that it is night. The city is charming, which is saying a lot coming from me (NOT a city girl). I frequently take the train downtown after work, have a glass of wine, walk along the cobblestoned streets until my feet hurt, then limp around in circles until I find the train station again.

Copenhagen! A storm coming in

And now that the scene is set, I will tell you about the real reason I am here – my fellowship. I don’t think I could have found a better placement for this time in my life. For those reading who don’t know what I am up to, let me explain: I am here for the summer as an environment fellow working with Maersk Drilling. It is through a partnership with my school, the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (“MIIS”), where I am one semester away from completing my Master’s degree. My position is an element of Maersk Drilling’s Health, Safety, Security and Environment office (“HSSE”). I chose it because I wanted to explore the private sector and learn more about how environmental strategy can be integrated within big industry. To say the least, as both a lover of the ocean and a consumer of oil and gas products, I felt a pull to better understand the industry that fuels our world.

A little on Maersk Drilling itself: Maersk Drilling is one of the five core businesses within the Maersk Group, a worldwide conglomerate that operates in 130 countries and employs 89,000 people. The other businesses within the Group are Maersk Line (one of the world’s largest shipping companies), APM Terminals, Maersk Oil, and APM Shipping Services. Additionally, APM Shipping Services comprises of Maersk Supply Service, Maersk Tankers, DAMCO (the world’s leading provider of freight forwarding and supply chain management services) and SVITZER (the global market leader for towing and emergency response).

It is important to note that Maersk Drilling is not an oil company. In fact, it is completely separate from Maersk Oil. Rather, Maersk Drilling specializes in providing high-efficiency drilling services to oil companies using its fleet of harsh environment jack-up rigs, deepwater semi-submersibles, and ultra deepwater drillships. To put it simply, oil companies are responsible for exploration, drilling companies are responsible for operations.

The Maersk Drilling and Supply Services Office Some of my training materials

In terms of the environment, my office – HSSE – is dedicated to reducing environmental impacts from its drilling, bunker, catering, crane, engine and maintenance operations. This involves everything from spill prevention, to air emissions, to chemical and waste management. The Environmental Management System (EMS) that Maersk Drilling uses functions in compliance with a voluntary international standard known as ISO 14001. The purpose of ISO 14001 is to: protect the environment; to identify environmental aspects (eg. any element of the organizational unit’s activities, products or services that can interact with the environment); to improve environmental performance; and to measure and minimize environmental impacts. This international standard is central to everything I am and will be involved with in this company, so I am endeavoring to learn it inside and out. (In fact, I got to participate in an external audit for recertification of the ISO 14001 my second week in, which was very eye opening!)

I have only just begun my fellowship, but so far I am beyond impressed by the level of knowledge and professionalism my colleagues bring to the table. Take one of my colleagues who came for a visit from Maersk Drilling’s Singapore office this week. He recently designed and implemented a pilot project on one of the rigs aimed at optimizing on-board energy use via simple behavior change strategies, and within half a year it saved 20% of fuel, 12.5% in fuel savings and increased fuel efficiency by 5%! I had the pleasure of watching him present these results to three rig managers, and all were visibly impressed.

I also have a wonderful supervisor. I am so inspired by her dedication to her position as Head of Environment within HSSE, and am astounded by how much I have learned from her already in such a short amount of time. She is a specialist in the ISO 14001 and chemicals management, among several other things, and she is taking on the first ever natural capital accounting initiative in the entire industry. (Natural capital accounting is a field that endeavors to assign a dollar value to the environmental impacts an industry has.) That is a big deal.

As we move further and further away from the industrial era in pursuit of green, sustainable living, oil and gas is in the midst of its own in between. Perhaps that is what really drew me to it. Truly, I am inspired everyday by the people working here on the frontlines of this heavily criticized industry. Maybe one day oil and gas will be a thing of the past, but as demand shows, it is here to stay for a while more. I, for one, am happy that there are people within the industry who are trying to make it as clean and safe as it possibly can be.

A celebration on a tall ship for an anti-fouling paint company A celebration on a tall ship for an anti-fouling paint company

Stay tuned for future blog posts, where you will get a deeper inside what life is like as an environmentalist working for a drilling company! Thanks for reading 🙂








One thought on “In Between Here and There (A Story of an Environmentalist and a Drilling Company)

  1. Great writing with wonderful tension of the in-between–thank you for the post!

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