Anatomy of an Offshore Oil Drilling Rig
A video posted on Monday to the Wall Street Journal website profiled what offshore drilling giant Transocean claims is the world’s most powerful drilling ship. The ship, called Discoverer Clear Leader, is drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico, 190 miles south of New Orleans.
The Clear Leader is owned and operated by Transocean, who is using the ship’s technology to drill for oil in places that other oil rigs cannot. “We are drilling in 12,000 feet of water, 40,000 foot holes, because we have the horsepower to do that,” John Redington, offshore installation manager for Transocean, told the Journal. He went on to say that third- and fourth-generation oil rigs get to 20,000 or 25,000 feet, and then “start wheezing.”
Although the Clear Leader’s technology is expensive—Chevron, the ship’s first customer, is paying almost $500,000 per day—the oil industry may not have much choice. The oil fields of the 20th century are either pretty much dry or off limits to drilling, forcing oil companies farther and farther offshore in search of untapped resources.
Said Gary Luquette, president of Chevron North America Exploration and Production, “The cheap, easy stuff has pretty much been picked over, and these pools or pockets that you are looking at are much smaller.”
Chevron is searching for oil in areas that may be a challenge to tap into, but also have “greater promise for larger discoveries, which is what it takes,” Luquette said.
Crude oil is currently trading at about $81 per barrel; such high prices may make expensive deep-water oil exploration performed by rigs like the Clear Leader worthwhile to oil companies, and ultimately help lower future oil prices by increasing supplies. In addition, the Gulf of Mexico appears to be far from tapped out.
For example, on November 14, BP announced that it had made what it termed a “giant” crude oil discovery in the Gulf of Mexico. The presence of oil was confirmed in the Lower Tertiary formation, about 5 miles west of BP’s Tiber reservoir.
On December 7, the Houston Chronicle reported that oil companies made 12 discoveries in the Gulf of Mexico in 2009, marking the largest number of oil finds in the area since 2002, and confirming the Gulf of Mexico as a major source of oil for years to come.