ROV – Swimming Socket Wrench

Atomic Energy Commission robot inspired offshore petroleum industry’s remotely operated vehicles.


Shell Oil and Hughes Aircraft companies in 1960 began modifying an advanced but landlocked “Manipulator Operated Robot” — known as MOBOT — into one that could operate underwater. The result would lead to revolutionary offshore swimming machines for petroleum exploration and production. 

Much of the 21st century’s offshore oil and natural gas industry relies on remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) that can trace their roots back to Howard Hughes, Jr. In the late 1950s, Hughes Aircraft Company developed its Manipulator Operated Robot – MOBOT – for the Atomic Energy Commission. (more…)

Offshore Drilling History

Petroleum exploration and production technologies evolved from 1890s platforms on piers and lakes.


The U.S. offshore drilling for oil began in the late-19th century on lakes and at the ends of Pacific Ocean piers. Until an innovative Kerr-McGee drilling platform in 1947, no offshore drilling company had ever risked drilling beyond the sight of land.

View of California oil piers with wooden derricks circa 1900.

Many of the earliest offshore oil wells were drilled from piers at Summerland in Santa Barbara County, California. Circa 1901 photo by G.H. Eldridge courtesy National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.

In 1896, as enterprising businessmen pursued California’s prolific Summerland oilfield all the way to the beach, the lure of offshore production enticed Henry L. Williams and his associates to build a pier 300 feet out into the Pacific — and mount a standard cable-tool rig on it. (more…)

Petroleum Survey discovers U-boat

Routine scan of Gulf of Mexico seabed for new petroleum pipelines reveals shipwrecks.


During World War II, U-boats prowled the Gulf of Mexico to disrupt the flow of oil carried by tankers departing ports in Louisiana and Texas.

Today’s petroleum companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico’s outer continental shelf routinely provide government scientists with sonar data for areas with potential archaeological value. Federal agencies review oil and natural gas-related surveys, and over the years the data have revealed more than 100 historic shipwrecks in U.S. waters.

Circa early 2000s offshore oil industry sonar image and photo of U-boat in Gulf of Mexico.

A 2001 archaeological survey by BP and Shell prior to construction of a natural gas pipeline confirmed discovery of U-166 about 45 miles off the Louisiana coast.

In 2001, the Minerals Management Service noted that “a German submarine definitely got our attention.”


Ohio Offshore Wells

Oil was produced from platforms on Grand Lake St. Marys as early as early as 1887.


As the turn of the century approached, oil producing Ohio wells drilled far out over a reservoir mark the beginning of America’s offshore petroleum industry, according to Mercer County historians.

America’s first offshore drilling once was generally acknowledged to be over Louisiana’s Caddo Lake in 1911 – until researchers in Mercer and Auglaize counties in Ohio said otherwise.

Oil patch sleuths pointed to Mercer County documents recording wells producing oil above the waters of Grand Lake St. Marys at least 20 years before drillers ventured over the waters of Caddo Lake above the giant Caddo-Pine Island field. (more…)

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