The temperature is 118 degrees. The nearest human being is four hours away across the trackless sands. There is not a tree or bush or blade of grass in sight. Bob Gooch likes it here.
He's drilling for oil Geological surveys and seismic tests say this is a likely spot.
It is hard to imagine any other force that would bring men and machines to this forbidding place. Suhul No. 1 is in the middle of the legendary "Empty Quarter," a Texas-size ocean of shifting sands that must be one of the most desolate places on earth.
"A lot of 'em who come out here, they take one look and they turn around and go back," Gooch told a visitor. "But it's a good job."
Gooch, a burly, jovial Oklahoman and "a farmer at heart," is the Arabian-American Oil Co.'s foreman at this site, one of several places in the Empty Quarter where Aramco is exploring for oil, seeking to expand what are already the world's greatest proven petroleum reserves.
Most of Saudi Arabia's oil is 300 miles away, near the Persian Golf coast around Dhanran, the Aramco company town. But Aramco and Saudi government officials are convinced that there is another vast pool of oil out here in the wilderness.
The 70 men working the drilling rig here lives in a nearby camp of prefabricated huts made in Texas. Four enormous diesel generators trucked in by special vehicle from Dhahran power air conditioners, lights refrigerating equipment and a portable desalination plant that purifies the water from subterranean wells.
Gooch and two other men work for Aramco. The rest are employees of Santa Fe International, an American company that owns the rig and drills for oil on contract to Aramco. Most of the Santa Fe hands are Arabs - Egyptians, Palestinians and Saudis. They work 28 days on and 28 days off, and when they're on, Gooch says, they work hard.
"We don't ever stop. You can't stop. That thing is going night and day," he said, pointing at the rig where the grease-stained workers sweated and cursed as they wrestled with the drill.
Aside from a pool table and a few well-worn paperbacks, there is no entertainment to be had anyway, not even movies. "Our laughs are our work," Gooch said. "When you get men working like this all the time, all they want to do is eat and sleep when they're off the rig."
Every three days an Aramco plane sets down at a rudimentary airstrip bringing food and other supplies, but otherwise the workers here are totally alone. "There used to be gazelles out here, but they're rare now," said Gooch, who is 48 and has been working in the Empty Quarter 19 years. "At night you see some foxes."
Aramco's resident geologist here is Daniel Evans, 30' who examines core samples brought up by the drill looking for signs of oil in the earth.
"I used to be a bureaucrat, working in an office," he said as he guided his red puickup truck over the dunes, "but I kind of like it out here. I like the work and I like the people."
For those who work here, he said the rig and camp are pretty much the limits of their world. "It's easy to get lost in the desert because the wind overs your tracks," he said. "People stick pretty close to the camp."
Gooch said the drilling rig here has been operating about seven weeks.If they find no oil after six months, he said, they will move on to another site.
If they do find oil, they will mark the field and try to determine how much is there, but the well will be capped, not put into production.
Saudi Arabia is already producing more than 10 million barrels a day from its fields near the coast and will be able to lift nearly 12 million a a day there by the end of the year - more than it needs for economic reasons perhaps more than its customers can absorb. Any oil found here, Aramco officals say, is reserve for the future.