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History of Offshore Drilling

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When did offshore drilling start?

The history of offshore drilling began on platforms which were constructed on piles found in the Grand Lake St. Marys’ waters located in Ohio around the year 1896.

These wells were constructed by small companies such as Riley Oil, Brydon, Banker’s oil and German-American. The very first of these submerged oil wells were drilled in salt water later in 1896.

It was in the area occupied by the Summerland field with drilling extending beneath the Santa Barbara Channel located in California. They drilled these wells from piers which extended from the land moving out to the channel.

Other areas in which this initial submerged drilling was carried out include the Canadian side of the Lake Erie (1900s) as well as the Caddo Lake located in Louisiana (1910). A few years later, oil wells were being drilled in the tidal zones which are found along the Louisiana and Texas Gulf coast.

An example of such a well is the Goose Creek Oil Field found close the Baytown, Texas. Bibi Eibat was arguably one of the first offshore wells drilled in Azerbaijan, 1923. It was located in a hollow part of the Caspian Sea on an artificial island.

Drilling activities also took place from concrete platforms which were built in Lake Maracaibo found in Venezuela in the 1920s.

First Offshore rigs

Though oils were drilled sometime earlier, you can say one of the first actual offshore drillings took place in the early 1930’s in the swamps of Louisiana using shallow draft barges. A Tender Assist Drilling (TAD) unit with Kerr-McGee as the owner, started offshore drilling on September 9, 1947, in water with a depth of 15 feet in the Gulf of Mexico.

One of the first offshore rigs which drilled some of the first wells in Louisiana’s open waters was The Breton Rig which was created by John T. Hayward in 1949 who was working with Barnsdall Refining Co. then.

The Breton Rig 20 which was later called the Transworld Rig 40 was seen as a great achievement because it gets rid of the time and cost which was needed to build a platform made out of wood to support some or all of the offshore rigs.

The Breton Rig 20 can lay a claim that it was the premier Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit (MODU) though it often drilled in shallow water which was less than 20 feet.

Mr. Charlie was the first real MODU which was designed and created from square one by Ocean Drilling and Exploration Co. (ODECO) which was headed by its president and founder, “Doc” Alden J. Laborde.

Life magazine produced an article on the innovative new idea to explore oil/gas offshore in June 1954 after the Mr. Charlie set out to its first ever location. Mr. Charlie which had a water depth of 40 feet, set the standard for building MODUs in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Western Explorer which was owned by Chevron was the first floating drilling rig which used offshore well control and drilled its first well in the Santa Barbara Channel in 1955. Others soon followed, with each and every one of them thinking about the sea and technology which to use so as to drill in rough weather.

After the Second World War and war in Korea, there was a great demand for oil supply. In response to this, an offshore oil drilling rig was launched in 1955. It was supervised by a C.G. Glasscock Drilling Co., a US company and was constructed by Bethlehem Steel.

The rig was designed for drilling over 100 feet deep in water, could haul a pile with a force of 942 tons and propel piles with a force of 827 tons.

Another was the CUSS 1 which was constructed from a Second World War raft in 1956. The rig which was constructed by a certain CUSS group (Continental, Union, Shell, and Superior Oil) had a length of 260 feet and it had a beam of 48 feet. This CUSS group, later on, grew into what they now call the Global Santa Fe.

Another rig which existed at the time was the Humble SM-1 which was constructed in 1957. It was under the ownership of Humble Oil and Refining Co. It drilled 65 wells, having a maximum depth standing at 5,000 feet and an average water depth standing at 159 feet. It was rather unfortunate that the rig sank in 1961 in a storm when it was in the possession of another operator.

Offshore Drilling advancements

The major obstacle to almost every business is the shortage of manpower. When analyzing how technology has helped any sector, we will always consider how it has helped increase the efficiency and productivity and the Robotic Oil Rigs have done just that.

The Iron Roughneck robot created by National Oilwell Varco Inc. and the robotic oil drilling rig created by the Robotic Drilling Systems (RDS) based in Norway has gone a long way to improving offshore drilling.

The Iron Roughneck is able to connect drill pipes through rock faces and the ocean and also helps to reduce the number of workers to be employed. The Robotic Drilling System’s rig goes an extra mile, with several robots carrying out tasks which range from pipe handling and lifting to drilling activities.

This has led to a great increase in productivity and profitability as well.

Similar to the development in robotics, the recent technological development of Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) have simplified the advancement of offshore oil fields.

They were of great use in exploring ocean depths that humans could not access. There were few technological changes in the past until recently when machine vision and automation control technology significantly improved.

This has resulted in the use of ROVs to efficiently inspect platforms and pipelines, underwater structures, for construction purposes, as well as for maintenance and repairs. This technological advancement has led to quick and efficient methods for drilling operations and an increase in levels of production.

Traditional drilling was done vertically. Lots of research have enabled scientists to come up with new methods of drilling which has improved the level of production and reduced the impact on the environment.

Some locations which suit horizontal drilling, have fewer wells because horizontal drilling creates horizontal patches that are up to a mile long. This, therefore, minimizes surface disturbance.

All the above-mentioned facts about offshore drilling go to show how offshore drilling has evolved over the past years and still continues up till date with the increasing global need for energy sources to supplement modern and more environmentally friendly energy.

Posted in Oil & Gas History

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