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OWOE - Oil And Gas - How has technology changed offshore oil and gas development?
  Figure 1 - First Offshore Platform Patent (American Oil and Gas Historical Society)
Figure 1 - First Offshore Platform Patent (American Oil and Gas Historical Society)
Figure 2 - first offshore rig in the Gulf of Mexico that was out of sight of land (American Oil and Gas Historical Society)
Figure 3 - Modern Offshore Structures (source Earthly Issues - Offshore Drilling)
How has technology changed offshore oil and gas development?
Topic updated: 2018-04-09

The first offshore development of an oil field in the nation can be traced back to the late 1890's from piers of the Santa Barbara, California coast, and the first patent for an offshore drilling system was issued in 1896 (see Figure 1). Although it was never built, the design was well ahead of its time and resembles modern offshore structures. In 1911, in what has frequently been called America's first true offshore drilling, platforms were built over water without a pier connection to shore in Caddo Lake, Louisiana, using a fleet of tugboats, barges, and floating pile drivers. In 1938 the first free-standing drilling platform was installed in the Gulf of Mexico in the Creole Field located about 1.5 miles from the Louisiana coast. The drill site was located in 14 feet of water, and the rig was supported on a 100-by-300-foot platform secured on a foundation of timber piles. In 1947 the first platform was installed out of sight of land, approximately 10 miles from shore in the Gulf of Mexico, by Kerr McGee Oil Industries. (See Figure 2.) This is considered the start of modern offshore development.

Over the next several decades fixed platform technology allowed development in greater and greater water depths, with the deepest fixed platform installed in over 1300' of water in the Gulf of Mexico in 1988. A compliant tower (fixed base structure that flexes with the waves) was installed in the Petronius field in the Gulf of Mexico in 1998 in 1754' of water and was the tallest free-standing structure in the world until surpassed by the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in 2008. Since then, dynamically positioned, semi-submersible drill rigs have allowed drilling in water depths up to 15,000' of water. Buoyant and semi-buoyant production facilities such as Tension Leg Platforms, Floating Production Systems, spars, and tanker based systems coupled with subsea wells have allowed production in water depths over 9,000'. Figure 3 illustrates the various forms of deepwater development systems.

In addition to platform systems, a host of other technologies have been instrumental in offshore oil and gas development. Steam injection, chemical injection, gas lift, seismic exploration, deepwater drilling, horizontal drilling, three-dimensional and four-dimensional reservoir mapping, hydraulic fracturing, automated drilling, subsea production, steel catenary risers, polyester moorings, dynamic positioning, compact wellheads, multi-phase pumping, corrosion resistant steel alloys, and automated control systems are just some of the technology advancements that have been developed over the years. And, just as important, advances in construction equipment, such as installation vessels, launch barges, and underwater pile driving hammers, and design processes, such as 3D computer modeling, blast design, dynamic response analyses, fatigue analyses, fracture mechanics, computational fluid dynamics, and dynamic process simulation, have enabled the relentless advancement into deeper and deeper water.

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