Jaap van Ballegooijen Has Another Soda Shop Revelation

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Jaap van Ballegooijen is a man on the horns of a dilemma. Looks worried. Getting bald. Shell Oil is demanding so many barrels a day from his latest snake well shaped like somebody’s intestines. But it’s producing as badly as an overripe banana squeezed at one end. Shell Oil’s Global Smart Fields Programme Manager since 2006, with 30 years in the fossil fuel industry, Jaap knows that the solution to any problem comes from watching teens down at the soda shop drink with straws. They are so ingenious, these kids with their straws.

Jaap is the man who will stroll into McDonald’s and buy a round or two of shakes for every pimply youth in the place. Then he sits back and observes. A slurp here, a suck there. A cavalier twist of the straw. Before long one of those teens will display a novel straw technique that, before the kid can suck up his shake, Jaap will adapt to the oil well industry with revolutionary results.

“See that clownish guy over there with the straw stuck up his nose?” Jaap tells the Shell publicity lady. “After watching him pull the same stunt last year, I realized that, with the right rigging planted deep enough in the ground, we drillers could smell the petroleum down there. All we needed to do was suck it up and cash in. I bought the boy an order of fries, out of gratitude.”

Later in the day Jaap still wears that balding, hangdog look that comes with great fossil fuel responsibility. A Shell engineer has told him they have a bit of a new problem. Blocking the oil at Champion West Field offshore Brunei is a cap of solid granite a mile and a half beneath the earth’s surface.

As Jaap thinks, his frown lightens. He’s seen 14-year-old Andre at the Brunei Burger King already solve this pickle with a straw and a malted. Andre blasted through a lump in his chocolate malted by a sharp exhalation of breath into his straw. Jaap saw the analogy at once, the engineering technique that would yield millions of barrels. What a great day for drinking chocolate malteds. What a great day for Shell.

Even though Jaap is a multi-millionaire who never touches anything so filthy as oil, he always displays the sweaty, surprised look of a man who just stumbled forth from an underground cavity after being entombed in it for six months. Staggered to see daylight once more. And he’s got that male pattern baldness thing going. No amount of oil can cure that. It isn’t clear what effect if any milkshakes have on a receding hairline, either. But Jaap has other things on his mind. He’s a man in a tad of a quandary. Dr. Deep has called, and her ocean well in the Atlantic is sputtering dry like a grape on a grill. He heads off to Dairy Queen, looking for answers.

He sees a tow-headed kid with glasses attack his malted milk by burying his face in it and snorkeling through his straw. Snorkeling…Jaap phones in the solution to Dr. Deep, and the well is saved. These two Shell Oil action figures will share high-fives the next time they meet. And big bonuses.

But look, once again Jaap is in a sticky situation. A glorified well digger in a suit rushes up to him and says, calmly but with infinite concern, “The results aren’t what we wanted. We struck natural gas and the well ignited. Samuelson was running the drill. He survived, but he’s hopping mad.” Then Samuelson bursts in. Begrimed, tattered, burnt here and there, mercifully not dead. Of course it was the man’s own fault he had only a high school diploma and wasn’t trained in soda straw observation. And then Jaap knew how to deliver the stern messages to underlings. He dealt out the kind of blunt honesty that all his most lowly paid and least respected employees could count on hearing from him, no matter how uneducated and how subterranean in the Shell pecking order they were. “Let’s go grab a shake, old man,” Jaap says, “before you blow another well.”

At UDF, the exploding well continues to prey on Jaap’s mind. He observes the teens outside on the glassed-in patio, plying their shakes and malts. The swirling straw technique of a young boy with soft brown eyes and long lashes catches Jaap’s eye. The boy looks over at Jaap, starts to fidget, get alarmed. Jaap looks away at once, at a toddler with chocolate sprinkles all over its face. The trouble with watching teens eat ice cream is sometimes they get the wrong idea. He tells Samuelson this, and Samuelson has the solution. The men go watch women pole dance.

Jaap van Ballegooijen is a man with growing problems, despite his oil millions. One, his snake wells are drying up. Two, soda jerks all over the world now expect big tips for helping him solve the world’s energy problems. Look there. In the IHOP, Jaap just saw a girl do something remarkable to her sundae with a spoon. He ponders. Then he’s on the phone to Shell. Thanks to men like Jaap and ice cream-sucking teens, Shell will continue to meet the world’s demand for oil, which is expected to rise by 50 percent over the next quarter century. He leaves the IHOP waitress a five-dollar tip.

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