Gulf Oil Over 70 Years of Hard Work

Maybe it is the idea of the sun rather than the cold edged wind that has me so interested in oil production in the Gulf of Mexico. Possibly, as a safety adviser, it was the tragedy of 2010 when the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank claiming eleven lives. Whatever it is I find the decades of oil exploration starting with wooden platforms and iron will compelling. So who started paddling out into ever deeper waters in the first place? I wonder when they first started did they realise that Gulf oil was going to be over 70 years’ of hard work.Caribbean Sea Gulf of Mexico shaded relief bathymetry land map

Image shows the Gulf to the north west. Looks like a tiny lagoon but at 600,000 square miles it is no blip on the map.The author of the work GLOBE and ETOPO1

The Beginnings

Two of the big names were Dean A McGee and a robust Oklahoma politician called Robert S Kerr. In 1946 they formed Kerr-McGee and in 1947 they operated the first platform out of sight of land. However as early as 1936 Louisiana had granted licences to explore offshore and by 1938 the Creole Field had been discovered and a rig was constructed by Brown and Root of Texas.

That gives a good idea of how shallow the drop off is around the coast of the Southern States of America. The real boom came after WW2.

In some ways the Gulf was slow to catch on to the potential of offshore oil and gas. Piers of up to 300 feet from land had pushed early California’s development and lakes had hosted some pretty impressive production since as early as 1891.

That said, as we know, when the wind is howling and the sea is rising modern platforms and service vessels can be a little distressing to the new worker. Imagine trying to build strong and safe with treated pine pylons in an area of famous hurricanes.

Such was the fate of the Superior-Pure State No. 1, the first platform in the Gulf of Mexico.  It was a true pioneer platform of 320ft in length by 180ft wide. Workers spent several hours a day taking small boats out from the nearest settlement and in rough weather there was no production at all.  It might have been in only 14 ft of water and a mile offshore but it was taken out by a hurricane in 1940. Granted the stout hearts rebuilt it and it continued to produce despite all that.

Kerr-McGee was the first to break the taboo of losing the view of the shore. They were after oil from salt domes, high quality that could not be easily found unexplored on land. The technology was by and large none existent what needed to be learned, what needed to be adapted, came as always from the grit of the people out there. Kermac No 16 was 10 miles offshore in about 20 ft of water and was another effort by Brown and Root.

A week after it started production a huge hurricane with winds up to  140 mph caused the platform to be evacuated, however, unlike previous attempts to withstand the weather of the region there was not much damage. The first solid foothold had been established and the oil and gas industry was going nowhere.

black and white of the early rig
Kermac No 16.Photo courtesy New Orleans Times-Picayune

The Kermac would produce 1.4 million barrels of oil and 307 million cubic feet of natural gas over the next 47 years.

Oil and Gas in the Gulf Since

In the last 70 years the oil production has topped 600,000,000 barrels per year and provides 25% of the massive amount used by the USA. Natural gas production provides 5% of the the nation’s needs and all along the coast almost half of the countries refining takes place.

Taking one platform at random, Mad Dog is a BP platform (Chevron and BHP Bilton)  150 miles south of Louisiana’s coast and can turn out 60 million cubic feet of gas and over 80,000 barrels of oil daily. It floats in almost a mile deep water with a 550 ft spa.

colour photo of the mad dog floating spa platform.
The Mad Dog. Thanks to Cndn Bacon, Wiki.

The size of the platform is the same as a cluster of 44 houses. That is a long way from the wooden deck of the pioneer platforms that were 34 times smaller.

No matter how much the technology, capacity and sheer size of the operation might have changed, one thing that those of today have in common with the people of years ago is the spirit to work day to day in anything the Gulf can throw at them.





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