Oscar swore as the drill pipe swung overhead. Brian, his Derrickhand, was getting sloppy on his shift. Each pipe was nine meters long, threaded at the ends to screw together with the next lowered section. That is, if it was lowered properly for Oscar to do so.
“Hey, wake up man! Haul that back up and try again!”, Oscar waved hand signals overhead as Brian slowly got the swinging pipe under control.
This wasn’t their first time working together. The stakes were high enough when drilling on land, they went up when you hauled a bunch of gear out to the frozen wastes of the arctic. It had taken months just to get all of the infrastructure in place, the supplies and fuel stacked in special geodesic domes that wouldn’t get crushed under tons of drifting snow.
They were only good for a few hours each shift, maximum. High winds sometimes made progress difficult. When there was a whiteout you had to rely on the beacon at the main building, pulling yourself along the wires strung on eyehooks pounded into the ice. Sometimes, even the wires were buried.
The Rig Floor was dominated by the rotary table that clamped the pipe and allowed them to hook a string together. A metal mosquito sipping at treasures buried below. In their case, it wasn’t a pocket of hydrocarbons folded into sediments. They were going for a larger quarry.
Oscar mated the pipes, ready to drill down to depth. It had taken weeks to get through the decades of compressed ice using specialized drill attachments. You didn’t want it to shatter, causing containment problems. It had to be lowered in slowly, solid-state lasers pumping joules into the surface, allowing the bit to bite and churn it topside as liquid slurry.
Oscar kept careful watch on the depth. They were near the breakthrough point, where the geologists had said it would transition into compacted methane hydrates. This formation was special. Instead of a thin layer deposited on the sea floor, this pocket had been formed from early glacial activity.
A large concave pit under tons of ice surrounded a massive store of hydrates, all ready to be siphoned up to the surface in special reclamation tanks. It was their job to push through and establish a good seal. Oscar had a bonus riding on his performance, reclaiming more than 50% would mean a big fat check with his name on it.
Oscar squinted at the depth gauge, digital readout flickering with each vibration in the pipe. Most of the gear was custom, and took some getting used to. A green led lit up, signaling proper depth. He glanced at the pressure reading. Nothing. Not a single cubic centimeter was coming through.
It didn’t make sense.
At depth the drillhead would have activated the hydrates, causing them to release their trapped gas molecules. Oscar put his ear on the pipe, straining for the tell-tale hiss of laminar flows. Not a thing. He whipped his hands up signaling Brian to halt.
Removing his gloves, Oscar met Brian at the catwalk next to the drilling floor, piled high with drill pipes.
“We’re getting a whole load of nothing down there.”, Oscar gestured towards the pressure readout.
“After all this? You sure we calibrated it right?”
“Dead sure. Look, I’ve got an idea but we’ll probably have to pull some of the string to do it.”
“You know how much I love backtracking when we drill.”, Brian smiled, punching Oscar in the arm.
Oscar was about to answer when the suspended drill pipe above started to slide downward. Brian must’ve forgotten to secure it before coming down. Both of their faces twisted in horror as the exposed edge slammed into the upright pipe clamped in the table jaws.
Geysers of snow erupted away from the site in all directions. It was a cascade, cubic meters of hydrate were releasing all at once. Oscar ran, trying to reach the equipment shed. Cracks formed under his feet, others spewing gas blowing snow high up into the air.
A deafening roar as the entire camp sank down into the pack, snow blowing out from every side in large gouts. Oscar ducked behind the trailer, hands on his ears and mouth open trying to save his eardrums from the impending blast. A muted roar came from the hole, soon resounding from all sides.
Each gyser of snow turned into a bluish flame tinged at the edges with yellow. Inverted rocket booster pushing towards the evening sky. The roar was continuous, drowning out any sound. Oscar looked at the rig, perched on large metal pontoons.
Below, brilliant blue light as the motherlode caught fire, flaming sun rising to meet the sky.
Oscar uttered a prayer as it broke the surface, melting the steel deck.