Bird’s Eye View?

We get daily reports from each drilling rig summarizing the operations for the previous 24 hours. Our rig supervisors are intelligent, experienced, and well-trained…but they weren’t hired for their literary skills, and sometimes their reports contain phrases are, shall we say, mystifying. We in the office can usually discern their meaning based on context. For example, a few weeks ago one of the rigs reported that it had received a load of “bryan water” instead of “brine water,” and that was pretty simple to interpret, as well as giving us a good laugh.

They’re not always that easy to decipher, though. This one came in this morning, and it stumped everyone: “Inspection quail on top drive.”

The first thing we do when confronted with a mystery phrase is assume that it’s a misspelling, and we try to find rhyming words or homonyms that might fit in the context. In this case, the typist may have been referring to a bail, which is a thick bar of metal used to connect a couple of key components on a drilling rig (“top drive” refers to the kind of rig we’re using). It’s difficult to imagine how someone can type “qu” instead of “b,” and it’s doubtful that even Apple’s infinitely annoying autocorrect would try to change “bail” to “quail,” but that’s the best we could come up with. (Heaven forbid that we should actually contact the rig crew and ask for clarification.)

Personally, I prefer to take the phrase at face value and assume that they’ve developed the time-saving technology of using avian inspectors in situations that might pose a danger to humans. Here’s what I envisioned they used to verify that everything was OK on the rig:

Quail with a video camera strapped to his (or her) head

I applaud their ingenuity. I just hope they don’t extend the technology to prairie chickens.

Disclaimer: I’ll be the first to admit that the oilfield lexicon is brimming with arcane terms and neologisms and it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that there actually is a legitimate application of “quail” to a piece of drilling-related equipment. Feel free to enlighten me if that’s the case, and I’ll issue a [mental] apology to our rig guys. But I’ll still prefer my pictogram over reality. (As is so often the case, my therapist is fond of reminding me.)

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