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Moratorium leaves local oil worker dry docked


June 19, 2010 at 1:19 a.m.

After nearly 32 years in the offshore oil industry, Webb found himself facing an uncertain future Friday morning. As a man of faith and conviction, Webb was more concerned about the welfare of his crew, especially the younger men with families.

On Friday morning, Tommy Webb found time to stretch out on the couch, catch up on the news and enjoy a cup of coffee. It's something the Nursery resident, who worked as tool pusher in an offshore oil rig, doesn't always get to do.

But, recently, he's had more time on his hands.

After nearly 32 years in the offshore oil industry, Webb found himself indefinitely dry docked.

A recent moratorium on deep water petroleum drilling forced his company, Seahawk Drilling, to close out the rig where Webb worked in Cameron, La.

"And we found out last ... Thursday or Friday that we were going to be let go," he said. "I work a 14 (days on) and 14 (days off) schedule and we got to work a week of it this week."

The decision to shut down affected more than 60 Seahawk employees.

Seahawk put its workers on furlough rather than laying them off, which does help, he explained. Although they won't receive paychecks, they still maintain insurance coverage.

Webb said the situation has him and his friends irritated with BP, but angry at President Obama.

Things happen in the oil industry, he explained, but it never should have taken so long to get cleanup under way in the Gulf.

Webb said his main concern is how the changes effect the number of workers out on rigs.

"The more you shut down oil fields time after time, the less of your experienced people you get back," he said. "Then you get back out there and you've got less of your experienced people to work with and you're training new people."

Even those whose rigs are still up and running feel the effects, he said.

With ongoing stories about troubles in the industry, it's constantly on rig workers' minds, Webb said. When they're thinking about that, they're taking their minds off of their jobs, introducing other safety hazards.

The oil industry can be dramatic and unpredictable, Webb admitted, adding he sometimes refers to it as "as the rig turns."

His rig was shut down for a year due to high gas prices, he said, and just got up and running again in February.

"And here we are several months later, and we're shut down again," he said. "A lot of our guys just got hired back and they're unemployed again."

Webb said he isn't worried so much for himself, simply because he's been in it for so long. His wife, Kelly Webb, works as a marketer with a nursing and rehab facility, so they still have income coming in, and none of their children live at home.

It's the younger men, with wives and children to support, he said, who will likely have the hardest time.

As far as what to expect in the future, Webb said he isn't quite sure.

Seahawk can start hiring men back once it starts taking on more contracts, but there's no telling when that might be.

"I'll just wait it out and see what happens, unless something else comes along," he said. "I might even check into going overseas."

He has a future son-in-law who is also employed by Seahawk, he said, and they'll know next week whether his rig will close.

In the meantime, he's trying to look on the bright side.

He and his wife had planned an upcoming Florida vacation, but will refigure the idea. Either way, they married in February, so the newlyweds have more time to spend together.

He also has more time to devote to hunting, he said, and to his shiny black Harley Davidson Ultra Classic motorcycle.

"I'm just going to wait it out," he said. "I'll stay busy."



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