Chevron-Texaco's Petronius Oil Platform as seen from the air. Photo by Steve Majors.
One of the things that lured me to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast was the opportunity to get out and see interesting people and places. I got that chance last week when I flew with CNBC's Scott Cohn by helicopter to visit a hulking oil platform 100 miles in the Gulf of Mexico. That's where I met Ferrell Martin.
Oil and natural gas production represent a large part of the economic engine for this region and the black gold mined from the ocean floor literally fuels your cars. Ferrell Martin is one of the 100 folks who man the "pumps" at the Petronius Oil Platform. You could call it a full service "station." Standing 2001 feet above the ocean floor, the floating steel island is taller than the Sears Tower and produces the crude oil that eventually is processed into gas, diesel, kerosene and aviation fuel.
Ferrell reminds me of John Wayne in some old movie like "War of the Wildcats"-- sunburned and leather-necked, with piercing eyes. His job is to tame the wide open oil fields that lie beneath the gulf and help bring up more than 60,000 barrels of oil and equivalent gas per day.
One barrel of oil translates into about 20 gallons of gas. And for that, Ferrell works 12 hour shifts, 14 days at a stretch. But he's used to it after working more than 30 years on platforms across the gulf. He doesn't the mind the searing heat, the inescapable roar of machinery or the cramped living conditions. It's the time away from his family that hurts -- especially his four grandkids.
But just like the Texaco man made famous 50 years ago, he stands like a sentinel, waiting to be of service. (full disclosure here, Petronius is run by the now merged CHEVRON-TEXACO.) Still, his values seem to be a throwback to that "Men of Texaco" era. He's weathered hurricanes, dangerous operations, boom times and bust. Ferrell tells me he can't concern himself much with storms (except when they put his platform in peril). And he doesn't have time to think about political debates about the price of oil. His job is just to keep the pipes pumping and America running.
So the next time you drive up to one of those neon "Gas-Marts" and hand over 25 bucks to a gum-popping counter clerk who's too young to remember the Men of Texaco, think of Ferrell. He'll be out in the Gulf of Mexico, standing watch for you and your car.
Editor's note: Scott Cohn reports tonight about Ferrell and the Petronius Platform on CNBC's "On the Money" program at 7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT.