There is a whole industry that takes place miles offshore, and has done so for years. It is an industry of engineering marvels, skilled craftsmen, never-ending demands and enormous risks. It is vital to the way of life of every one of us that relies on fuel, whether it be crude oil or natural gas.
Drilling rigs are a critical tool for exploring and extracting natural resources buried deep underground, and when the ground happens to be under hundreds of feet of water, the situation gets even more complicated. Offshore Drilling Rigs (ODRs) have taken the search for natural resources beyond dry land, and have been doing so for over 100 years.
As you can imagine ODRs have come a long way over the years, the first ones were used before 1900 and it wasn’t until the 1940’s before they were being pushed far enough off shore to the point that you couldn’t see land. Now you can find them upwards of 200 miles offshore. Different types of rigs have been developed depending on what is being extracted and how deep the water is. The rig that we were able to tour is known as a jack-up rig and is able to self-elevate itself as needed – the platform climbs up the legs that support it.
The actual process of building these rigs, moving them into place, extracting the resources, and then getting those resources to land is a monumental undertaking and something that I have always been interested in. Even more so since the day we arrived at Dolphin Island, AL and I saw the first Gulf rigs dotting the horizon. I was pumped to hear that the only drilling rig suitable for public entry just happened to be sitting in Galveston, TX. Here are some pics from our visit to the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig and Museum.
As you make your way into Galveston harbor you can tell immediately just how involved this city is with the offshore drilling industry. Directly across the waterway from the museum are large vessels and platforms repairing current ODRs to get them back into the Gulf and into service.
A walkway takes you from the mainland to the museum, along the way you’ll pass various shoreline birds, notice the albino pelicans…??!! Not sure if that is a real thing, but these guys sure look like them.
The museum is spread over three levels consisting of both interior and exterior displays. It is a self-guided tour so you can take as long as you like. The exterior portion of the tour lets you get up close to some of the large equipment components used during drilling operations:
The yellow guy in the background of this pic is a WROV (Work-class Remotely Operated Vehicle) and is capable of operating at depths of 9,000ft. It was used during repair operations due to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill which took place on April 20, 2010.
Many rigs have hyperbaric chambers on them that divers spend time in after diving in deep water. A chamber such as this gives the body time to readjust to normal atmospheric pressure compared to the pressures they experienced at the depths they dove to. Not going through this process can cause serious health issues called “the bends”, which can be fatal in some cases.
This is an escape pod for when things go terribly wrong and the crew needs to abandon the rig. You’ll see the plaque notes the capacity of this pod is 28 persons!! I do hope help arrives fast for anyone unfortunate enough to have to use one. But with that said I’m sure when you can’t see land in any direction and the rig is experiencing catastrophic failure, you are extremely happy to have this little guy to wedge yourself into until the cavalry comes.
The interior of the museum offers all sorts of displays covering the science and engineering that goes into this industry – the equipment required, and lifestyle of the drill rig world. Depending on the ODR location and task at hand, the workers can be on these platforms for months at a time. I can’t imagine living on a rig for months at a time without seeing land in any direction. The footprint of even the largest rigs aren’t much more than the size of a couple of football fields…that is a tiny island out in the Gulf!
This map shows the activity in the Gulf of Mexico and how it is divided up so the various oil & gas companies can operate.
The museum also has all sorts of models of rigs and ships, each of which had incredible detail.
The upfront investments made by these companies to gather these natural resources are mind boggling – the rigs that are used are often times owned by one company and leased to the oil & gas companies for their use – you can lease a drilling rig for the bargain price of around $500,000 per DAY!!! And these things sit in the Gulf for months…wow! It gives you an appreciation for the amount of money wrapped up in this operation.
The museum did have areas that covered some of the major offshore drilling disasters that have happened over the years as well, there was no attempt to sweep them under the rug. The fact is that it is a physical operation designed and carried out by humans, so mistakes are going to happen. And those mistakes have major consequences. If we look back over the years at how various natural resources have been gathered, there is always a cost to the natural environment, even when everything goes right, and especially when it goes wrong. Offshore drilling is no different.
If you have any interest in drilling, off shore living environments, or engineering of any kind; the Ocean Star is worthwhile stop for you.
The museum gave me an appreciation for the scale of this endeavor, and the dedication that those in this field of work must have to do their job well, consistently. When I look at the equipment that is needed, the costs of that equipment, the manpower, the insurance, and everything else that goes along with it…I can honestly say that I’m glad to only be paying $2.00/gallon at the pump right now!