Liz Claman of Fox Business Network Boards an Oil Rig and Talks French Fries

Today's cuppa: espresso

Thumbnail image for Fox_Business_Network_Liz_Claman.warmer.jpgAnchor and correspondent Liz Claman of Fox Business Network -- she also appears on FBN's cable-news sibling, Fox News Channel -- decided to get out of the studio this week to celebrate her 600th broadcast of "Countdown to the Closing Bell," which airs at 3 p.m. ET.

She started the week aboard a shallow-water oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, looking at the aftermath of the BP oil spill and the impact of subsequent government actions -- including a moratorium on deep-water drilling (which may be lifted early) -- on other drillers. Claman left the rig this morning (Tuesday, Sept. 28) to return to the FBN studios.

(Click here for video of Claman on the Hercules 201 shallow-water oil rig.)

Tonight, she heads to St. Louis to talk to McDonald's Corp. CEO Jim Skinner, whose fast-food restaurants' menus have also come under government scrutiny for what connection they may have to rising obesity rates. The interview is set to air Wednesday, Sept. 29, on "Countdown to the Closing Bell."

Excerpts from Claman's trip to the oil well aired on FNC, and other portions of her work this week may air there as well.

Claman took time from her travels on Monday to answer some email questions about her milestone week. Enjoy! (Questions in bold)

What made you want to travel to the oil rig?

We'd been covering the BP spill day and night. When the government imposed a deepwater-Fox_Business_Network_Liz_Claman_Oil_Rig.JPGdrilling moratorium a month after the well exploded, we started to hear that shallow-water drillers were getting painted by the same brush, even though what they do and how they do it is markedly different from what the deep-water drillers do.

When we started to invite shallow-water drilling CEOs on Fox Business, you could hear their worry and frustration. During one of those interviews, with the head of Hercules Offshore, I spontaneously blurted out at the end of the interview, "Could we come down and see how you guys operate?" Live on the air he said, 'Yes, absolutely.'

I felt that it would be so easy to tell this story from an air -conditioned television studio in Manhattan, but that's not the Fox Business way. We wanted to get boots on the ground, and I'm happy to say that's exactly what we did today.

What were the logistical challenges of traveling to and shooting from an oil rig?

This was a complicated shoot. Our entire crew of six: two photographers, one audio technician, our producer Yvette Michael, along with a satellite guy and his tech, went out to the rig weeks ago for a site survey. We had no idea if we could establish a live TV signal from three-and-a-half miles off the Louisiana coastline. That was the first layer of preparation.

They built antennae for the wireless microphones, installed an entire satellite dish, and laid hundreds of feet of cable.  They then tested 12 different sites on the rig: everything from the deck to the helipad to the blowout preventer, right beneath the drill itself, to inside the crew quarters. 

We all then returned this past weekend, re-tested all the shots, and we were good to go Monday morning. Getting there from New York was a challenge in and of itself. We flew to Houston, drove two hours to Sulphur, La., spent the night, and then drove an hour to Cameron, La., on the coast this morning at 5 a.m., then took a 40-minute boat ride to the rig.

The crew then hoisted us all via crane from the supply boat to the deck on what's called a "Billy Pugh," which, in essence, is a little mesh cage you cling to as it swings you onto the rig.

Fox_ Business_Network_Oil_Rig.JPGWhat were the main issues that came up with the drillers?

They simply cannot understand why permits aren't being granted for shallow-water drilling. There is no stated government moratorium on their end of the business. They feel they have a pristine safety record and therefore are frustrated and worried that they can't operate their rigs. Many of them have kids they're trying to put through school. They sacrifice a lot for their families. This job entails 14 on, 14 off; meaning, 14 days on the rig, then 14 days off.  That's difficult but the job pays well and it's worth to them.

What did you learn that surprised you the most?

How disciplined they are. The rig runs like clockwork, and they take immense pride in what they do. They are distracted by nothing. They're completely focused on honing their skills and updating their knowledge every step of the way.

I also had no idea how important the shallow -water rigs are to natural gas production in the country. They're responsible for extracting two-thirds of the Gulf's natural-gas reserves.

Natural gas is clean-burning, and we've got a lot of it in this nation. Why continue to buy oil from Arab nations, many of which don't like us very much? Shouldn't we be turning to these operators, and employing folks in this country

What did you hear that didn't surprise you at all?

How frustrated they are. If you produced a product that was in high demand and someone --something-- was making it nearly impossible for you to do your job and make a living, you'd be pretty upset. Every single one of the rig workers said they have no problem with tighter safety controls... they just want them to be rational controls that are appropriate for their industry.

What do you plan to discuss with McDonald's CEO Jim Skinner?

How does a global giant like McDonald's expand from here? They're in just about every nation, so how will they continue to grow without over-saturation?

How does he feel about the current economic climate?

I'm really interested to know if he feels like business is supported right now by Washington. A lot of CEOs I speak with feel like businesses are under attack. Does he?

A lot of his franchisee owners are small business folks. How does he feel about the new Small Business $30 billion bill the President just signed into law?

And how the heck does he make his French fries taste so good, no matter which state, which city you're in? I can't resist.

Considering the president's fondness for the occasional cheeseburger while away from the White House, do you think the current anti-obesity campaigns will have a significant effect on fast-food restaurants' bottom lines?

We've already seen some effects. You could say McDonald's led the way when it stopped using trans-fats and offered salads and healthier alternatives. Fast-food restaurants are reading the writing on the wall, and if they're smart, they'll at least work hard to offer at least some healthy fare. Obesity costs employers a lot of money in healthcare bills -- including, I'm sure, McDonald's.

Experts seem to be disagreeing wildly on the state and near future of the economy. Is this the most challenging time to be reporting on business?

The challenge is to keep up with the story which continues to morph from crisis to stabilization to further erosion to confusion.  It's our job to tell the story each step of the way, help viewers understand what's really going on with their tax dollars, but also to help them invest no matter what the economic or political climate.

Everyone has a right to save for their retirement, but not everyone understands how to do that. If I help one person realize that they've got to save money for their future, and maybe help them get on the road to making the right investments, then I've done my job.