My visit to Shell’s Olympus drilling rig and platform in the Gulf of Mexico concluded today at “One Shell Square”. That’s where the oil company has offices in downtown New Orleans.
We learned that drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico can cost up to $1.5 million a day to operate. For that reason the company spends a lot of effort trying to reduce what it calls NPT or “non-productive time”.
We also saw the on-shore control room for Olympus (pictured above). Shell, BP and Chevron constructed an underwater fiber optic network from Mississippi to Texas in 2009. That allows workers onshore to constantly monitor what’s happening out on the rig. They can look at any of the 160 cameras on board and monitor all sorts of instrument readings to assist their co-workers.
Finally we saw a place called “The Bridge”. Sadly this was not a Star Trek reference. This “team serves as a bridge between platform operators running equipment and problem-solving engineers”, according to Shell’s web site. This group collects 700 million pieces of data a day and then analyzes them for problems. When they notice something that appears out-of-whack, they alert others to see if something needs to be fixed.
One big thing that has struck me during this trip is just how complicated it is to get oil out of the earth these days. A lot of the crude that’s easy for companies to extract is either gone or controlled by state-owned firms now. So that leaves companies like Shell out in the Gulf of Mexico tapping into reserves that require a lot of technology and money to reach.
Thanks for joining me the last few days—I enjoyed it!
The maximum capacity on Shell’s Olympus drilling rig and platform is 192 workers. That many people eat a lot of food—about 1650 pounds of meat every week. Included in that is about 785 pounds of beef, 370 pounds of chicken and 80 pounds of catfish.
Crews work a variety of schedules—two weeks on and then two weeks off is common. Those who work at night need quiet during the day. In the sleeping quarters you’ll see signs advising passersby that a “day sleeper” is inside. Crews share bedrooms—two or four to a room. Each bunk has its own television.
The rig has an exercise room (shown above) and a game room that also has large-screen TVs and recliners.
Tomorrow we visit Shell’s on-shore Deep Water Technology Centers in downtown New Orleans—more then…
The Olympus drilling rig and platform is huge—about 40 stories tall. While other rigs that have been in the Gulf of Mexico for years are rusty, the Olympus appears shiny because it was only recently put in service. Shell expects the rig to have a lifespan of 50 years.
The second and third photos are an illustration of what I found myself doing a lot on the rig—looking down. Since the Olympus is so tall, it’s a long way down to the water. The color of the water really struck me too—beautiful, bright blue.
I think we spent much of today climbing up and down stairs. There are many levels on the Olympus and everywhere you look there are stairs to take you there.
Best-laid plans… I had hoped to post throughout the day as we toured Shell’s Olympus drilling rig and platform in the Gulf of Mexico. But there’s no cell service this far out in the Gulf of Mexico (about 130 miles south of New Orleans). There is wifi on the rig but we couldn’t make it work with my smart phone (which seems a little less smarter to me today). But now I’m back safely on land and am posting a few items.
The first photo is our ride out to the Gulf on the rig helipad. This helicopter can carry 18 passengers, plus the crew of three. It took a little over an hour to reach the rig.
The second is a view I never get tired of… The Louisiana coastline is absolutely beautiful and scenes like this go on and on.
The third is me sitting in the very back of the helicopter. I scoped out all the seats and chose the one with the biggest window. I also remembered that in our HUET class the door with the lever was much easier to open than punching out the window in case of emergency!
The final photo in this set is a storm we passed in the Gulf of Mexico. This time of year thunderstorms pop up in the Gulf with little warning. It’s a concern for helicopter pilots. As they navigated around the weather, we were given a stunning view of the entire storm.
Shell has this info graphic about its Olympus drilling rig and platform. It’s a huge structure sitting in a half-mile of water. If you’re interested in more technical information check out these sites:
Wikipedia article on Tension Leg Platforms: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tension-leg_platform
We learned a lot today about how to survive if something goes wrong during our trip out to the Gulf of Mexico. Now I know that if I have to jump off an oil rig, I should look down first to make sure I’m not going to land on something or someone and then look straight ahead and cover my nose as I step off the platform. I learned how to properly get into a life raft (don’t dive in—feet first). And I learned the reassuring fact that Shell has 3 search and rescue helicopters on standby 24 hours a day.
With more than four hours of classroom training and demonstrating I can successfully get out of a helicopter underwater, I passed my Water Survival and Helicopter Underwater Egress Training. I’m now certified to ride a helicopter out to the Gulf of Mexico.
That trip to the Olympus drilling rig and platform is tomorrow and I’m looking forward to sharing more photos and experiences!
I haven’t mentioned where our training is happening—it’s at Shell’s Robert Training and Conference center about an hour north of New Orleans (http://www.shell.us/aboutshell/projects-locations/robert-training-conference-center.html).
The centerpiece of our HUET (Helicopter Underwater Egress Training) experience was the device above. Watch the video above and think about what it must be like to be in there! Strapped inside we were submerged in water to simulate a crash landing. Then the cabin was turned upside down—something that’s likely to happen if a helicopter has to “ditch” into water.
Our job was to remember an important series of events while holding our breath under water. First, remain in the crash position until the movement stops. Then put your hand on the seatbelt buckle (but don’t unbuckle yet or you’ll float to the top of the cabin). Reach over to unlatch the window or door—push it out forcefully with your elbow. Then hold onto the window sill and now you can unbuckle the seatbelt. Finally pull yourself out of the window, move to the edge of the pool and out of the way (where you can expel all the water that got into your nose!).
The first time I panicked and had to be “rescued”. But once I got the series of events down in my head and got better at keeping myself calm, my “underwater egress” went fairly smoothly. Now let’s hope I never have to use this training!
Come along as we tour an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.
Nearly a quarter of the crude oil produced in the U.S. comes from the Gulf, according to the Energy Information Administration (http://www.eia.gov/special/gulf_of_mexico/). But while you can often drive by an on-shore drilling rig in Texas or North Dakota few of us ever have a chance to see a drilling operation in the Gulf.
Tomorrow Shell is offering NPR and its audience a rare, up-close look at its Olympus drilling rig and platform (pictured above). It’s located about 130 miles south of New Orleans in water that’s about a half-mile deep.
Shell uses helicopters to transport crews out into the Gulf—it’s about an hour ride there. The company requires that all passengers on the helicopter have HUET certification. HUET stands for Helicopter Underwater Egress Training. Essentially the class teaches you what to do if there’s a problem and the aircraft has to “ditch” into the water. Sounds exciting, huh? More on that later.
Follow along as I tour an offshore oil rig…