Wednesday, March 31, 2010


The group here at Betty's got together for another road trip. The Rig Museum in Morgan City is the home of Mr. Charlie, the first transportable submersible drilling rig that was a forerunner for the current offshore drilling technology. This is the only place where the public has a chance to get on to an off shore rig.

Left is a model of Mr. Charlie that shows the 220 foot barges that float it into place. The barges are then filled with water to sit on the bottom while the well is drilled. After the well is done it can be refloated and moved to a new position. Virgil, a civil and environmental engineer who worked in the industry, bought Mr. Charlie to use as a museum and training facility. He was very knowledgeable about drilling and very proud of their very good environmental and safety records. In the background (R) are some of the drill bits.
Mr. Charlie now sits on the bottom along the shore of the Atchafalaya River. While it has not been used for drilling since 1986, it worked in the gulf over four decades. How far out it could work was limited by its height above the water, about forty feet. Later rigs had legs up to three hundred feet that could be lowered to the bottom in deeper water. We saw one of these being floated into the gulf in South Texas in 08. (see link) Other rigs use long cables and anchors to hold them in place. Today they have floating rigs that use GPS and motors to keep them in place so they can drill in water that is thousands of feet deep without being attached to the bottom.

The drilling platform is a mass of big heavy equipment. Left are the hoses and pipe used to pump drilling mud down the hole. Center is a pipe wrench so big it must be hung on cables, the 30' lengths of pipe that line the hole and the crane to move all the heavy stuff. Right is the derrick where the pipe is lifted to be connected which creates a continuous link that goes through the ground to the black gold.

Mr. Charlie was built to house 58 men (while today's rigs house over 200 men and women) with all the things needed to live out in the gulf for two to four weeks at a time. The suites back then slept four while newer rigs have private rooms. There was a big laundry and a cafeteria open around the clock to serve the crews that worked two twelve hour shifts. There are people living on board today to train as roustabouts. Safety is an important part of the training and, as you can see, it can be a very dangerous job. Virgil did say it is much safer today with more and more of the work being done by computers and much of the heavy lifting using a joystick rather than just muscle.

Also part of the museum is a production platform that does not have a derrick since it just pumps oil out of the well that has been drilled. The oil is then transported through pipes buried under the floor of the gulf to the mainland. When a well is abandoned all the equipment must be removed including everything under water. Right is a lifeboat that would be used if the platform needed to be evacuated in an emergency. Left is a diving bell that was used to check the underwater work. Divers are still important to the industry but robots now do much of the work, even assisting when a diver needs assistance.

As if it was scheduled, a crew boat (red) sailed up the river returning from an offshore platform. The larger blue boat is used to take supplies, which could be anything from food to pipe, out to the rigs.

Next to the museum is a company that makes the drilling mud that is pumped down the wells. The large tanks on the barges are full of mud to be shipped out to the wells.

Virgil was very concerned about the government not allowing new wells to be drilled in the gulf and off the coast of Virginia. I wonder what he would think about President Obama announcing the opening of those areas as I am writing this. The rig museum is an excellent place to get an inside look at one of Americas most important industries and at just $5.00 for a two and a half hour tour, a real bargain.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi love the blog...thought you might want to know who is in the picture with Betty in front of the sign...Chris Christianson, Ron and Ginny NOrton, Betty...Bill and Gisela Pollock, Tom and Jil Mohr and Goeff and nancy Justiss...great to see all the photos of Bettys and a part of the country we love too...Jil