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.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


I received the census form the other day. I decided to follow the example of a friend of mine. He was a Canadian who moved here and is now a citizen. When the census worker came to his cabin 10 years ago (he lives in the NH woods) he told the worker, "Unlike you, I had to take a test to become a US citizen. And I learned that the only thing the Constitution requires is to enumerate the population. You cannot come into my house, you cannot ask me any other questions and you cannot stay on my property. You have enumerated and you may leave."

So, I filled out the space requesting the number of people living at that address. Just for fun, I gave them my phone number – in Roman Numerals. That is all the information I gave them.

And I found it strange that in a time when the country is supposed to be "post-racial", that there were so many questions about race and ethnicity. But there were none asking if the responder was a citizen! I have lived in several countries for extended periods of time and none of them would even think to include me in any population count and certainly not give me any social benefits. Seems to me that a question about resident status would be more important to the census.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Unintended Consequences

Sometimes when executives go out in to the world, they are oblivious to the consequences of their actions. When a CEO decides to rub elbows with the "hands" offshore, a whole chain of events is put in motion. A special helicopter will be chartered. The platform will undergo a "beautification project" which takes the guys away from productive work (and adds cost). All "dirty" operations are postponed. The cost of all this adds up but the executive is not aware of it, or just doesn't care.

I once knew a construction supervisor, who when faced with a pending visit from the CEO, negotiated with the shipyard to spray a "cosmetic coat" of paint on the rig so that the color would be uniform and not the patchwork of shades that comes with paint sprayed on at different times. The problem was that they thinned the paint so much that it bubbled the paint below it causing a major do over.

It seems Obama suffers from a similar syndrome. When the President decides to go walkabout, he triggers road closures and all manner of local havoc. His vacation in Hawaii shut down the operation of several tourist flight sightseeing operations. They are now trying to recover their lost income from the government. The link is here.

And that's probably a few more votes he won't get in the next election.

Monday, March 1, 2010


There it is. This President thinks the American people don't care about "procedures within the Senate".