In 2010, Deepwater Horizon was one of 200 deep water offshore rigs capable of drilling in waters of more than 5,000 feet deep. It operates with 18.75-inch pipe capable of handling 15,000 pounds of pressure per square inch and has a 21-inch outside diameter riser. The Deepwater Horizon was built in South Korea by the Hyundai Corp. It had worked 2,896 days, or 93 percent of its 3,131 days of work life. The days it did not work it was being moved to other drilling sites in the Gulf of Mexico.
I doubt many of us fully understand how these drilling rigs operate. We understand that the fuel for our cars comes from the gas pump and, although we don’t like the price, the fuel is there for us nonetheless.
I think we need to understand a little more about the situation, even though we live far away from this horrible oil spill. Offshore drilling means the operation is out of sight of land. It all began on Sept. 9, 1947, when the first oil rig began pumping in the Gulf of Mexico. Since that time, the oil companies have developed five different types of drilling rigs all used for one purpose: to extract black gold from the bottom of the ocean.
The first type of oil rig is the fixed platform. This is an oil rig that is permanently anchored to the sea floor. In 1978, the deepest rig was set at 312 meters (1,025 feet) deep. In 1991, the Shell Oil Company anchored its Bullwinkle platform 412 meters (1,353 feet) beneath the Gulf of Mexico’s waters.
The second style of oil rig is called a submersible. This kind of oil rig is submerged while it is operating with the platform being the only structure above water line. This kind later can be refloated and moved to another drilling site.
The third style is the semi-submersible drilling platform. This style is partially submerged while drilling and is anchored by extremely long cables as well as stabilizing engines to maintain its position during drilling operations. It floats much as a fishing bobber floats while fishing.
The fourth type of drilling rig is called a jack-up. It is a drilling rig that has legs that extend much like the tower of a construction crane. The legs extend to the sea floor and then the whole rig is steadied by huge cables that are anchored in the sea floor as well.
The fifth kind of rig is a ship that is anchored over the drilling site during the operation and, when complete, can also be moved to other drilling sites.
There are more than 2,000 drilling units in the off-shore inventory. Among those are 10 submersibles, 166 semi-submersibles, 389 jack-ups and 40 drill ships, as well as 24 tenders to support the various operations.
As time goes by, the depths at which these oil rigs operate has increased significantly. In 1999, off the Norwegian coast, there was an oil rig operating at 340 meters (1,116 feet) deep. In 2005, in the Gulf of Mexico, there was a drilling rig operating at 2,133 meters (7,000 feet).
Gulf of Mexico oil rigs pump 1.5 million barrels of oil daily. That represents 25 percent of our own daily domestic oil supplies, which is 2 percent of daily global production.
Although the Deepwater Horizon had a blow-out protector, it was inoperative when BP tried to activate it after the explosion and fire 70 days ago. The problem, as I see it, is that these drilling rigs need more redundancy in their capability to shut off the flow of oil when there is an emergency of the kind experienced by the Deepwater Horizon. The operators of these rigs need to test these safeguards periodically to ensure their effectiveness. If redundancy of the kind I’m speaking of doesn’t exist, then it needed to be developed 10 minutes ago.
Additionally, we Americans need to wean ourselves from the extreme use of fossils fuels and turn to more and cleaner alternative fuel sources. Doing so yesterday wouldn’t be soon enough for my liking.
Larry Wilson is a 50-year resident of Sparks and a retired elementary school teacher. You can contact him at email@example.com.