Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Oil Field History

The birth of the offshore industry is commonly set as November 14, 1947 when Kerr-McGee completed the first successful offshore well in what is now Ship Shoal Block 32. The water depth there is only 15 feet but the location is outside of any protective islands or bays and is subject to the weather and waves from the Gulf of Mexico.

The drilling derrick and draw works were supported on a 38-foot by 71-foot wooden decked platform built on sixteen 24-inch pilings driven to a depth of 104 feet. A government surplus vessel was moored to the platform. It held electrical generators, drilling mud tanks, pumps, drill pipe and quarters for personnel; all the equipment, men and material needed to support the drilling operation. It also began the concept of housing crews offshore for several weeks at a time and then rotating them to shore while a replacement crew took their place. This first offshore well produced until 1984.

Do you remember the James Stewart movie Thunder Bay? This is the well that inspired that movie. Portions of it were filmed in Morgan City, Louisiana and on the actual platform.

The use of a government surplus vessel as a tender vessel was driven by frugality. If the well was not successful, they would be able to move the vessel to another location and they didn’t need a large fixed structure. That vessel was in existence as late as the '90s and has been called the “Grand Old Lady of the Gulf”. During her lifetime, she saw many changes in the Gulf of Mexico and has undergone several herself.

She was launched July 30, 1945 at the Boston Naval Shipyard as covered lighter YF-893. She was 260 feet long and 48 feet wide. Originally built as a utility craft to carry fuel, she was assigned to the Port of New Orleans. She was acquired by Kerr McGee in a surplus sale, converted to a drilling tender and renamed Frank Phillips in honor of the founder of the oil company that partnered with Kerr McGee in that first well.

In 1977, Norman Industries acquired her, renamed her the Pipeliner 8, and put her to use as a pipeline burial barge towing a machine that could bury subsea pipelines beneath the sea floor. She ran aground in 1979 near Freeport, Texas but by 1980, she had been repaired and had a new owner: Ingram Marine. In 1983, she began yet another career when she was converted to a center slot pipe lay barge. Ten foot sponsons added to give her more stability and she was renamed the Delta 1. As the Delta 1, she installed over 1,000,000 feet of pipe in the Gulf of Mexico. Finally, Global Industries acquired her in the 90’s. They were her final owners. They sold her for scrap in the late '90s.

At almost 60 years old, she must hold the record for the world’s longest active offshore construction vessel and she is certainly the only vessel that can lay claim to being there at the start of the offshore oil industry.

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