Ending Oil Gushers – BOP

An revolutionary idea sketched on the sawdust floor of a Texas machine shop.

 

 

James Abercrombie and Harry Cameron in 1922 filed a patent for the hydraulic ram-type blowout preventer. Their invention was a vital technology for ending dangerous oil gushers. 

“The object of our invention is to provide a device designed to be secured to the top of the casing while the drilling is being done and which will be adapted to be closed tightly about the drill stem when necessary,” they noted in their application, which was approved in January 1926. It revolutionized the petroleum industry. (more…)

Exploring Seismic Waves

Oklahomans first use reflections and refractions as way to find oil.

 

Exploring seismic waves is all about a vital earth science technology – reflection seismography – which first revolutionized petroleum exploration in the 1920s. Seismic waves have led to oilfield discoveries worldwide and billions of barrels of oil. 

seismic waves

A tourist site for geologists, a sign and historic marker on I-35 near Ardmore, Oklahoma, commemorates the August 9, 1921, test of seismic technology.

Seismic technologies evolved from efforts to locate enemy artillery during World War I. (more…)

Anadarko Basin in Depth

Massive rigs drilled to record depths in Oklahoma in the 1970s.

 

anadarko basin

Parker Drilling Rig No. 114 stands on display to welcome Route 66 travelers to Elk City, Oklahoma. It is 180 feet high – one of the tallest in the world. Photo by Bruce Wells.

The Anadarko Basin extends across more than 50,000 square miles of West-Central Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle. It includes some of the most prolific – and deepest – natural gas reserves in the United States.

Beginning in the late 1950s, when technological advances allowed it, Anadarko Basin wells in Oklahoma began to be drilled more than two miles deep in search of highly pressurized natural gas zones.

By the 1960s, a few companies began risking millions of dollars and pushing rotary rig drilling technology to reach beyond the 13,000-foot level in what geologists called “the deep gas play.”

Although most experts disagreed, Robert Hefner III believed immense natural gas reserves resided even deeper, three miles or more. (more…)

Pump Jack at Powder Mill Creek

 

The search for new technologies for pumping oil from wells – pump jacks – began soon after America’s first commercial discovery in 1859 near Titusville, Pennsylvania. For that well, Edwin Drake used a common water-well hand pump from a nearby kitchen.

A circa 1914 oil pumping jack, gears and flywheels remain intact less than a mile east of Powder Mill Creek in Butler County, Pennsylvania. Photograph by Patrice Gilbert, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

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By the turn of the century, a wide variety of methods, including pumping multiple wells from a single power source, helped meet growing demand for petroleum.

In 1992, photographer Patrice Gilbert discovered an abandoned circa 1910 pumping machinery in the lush Pennsylvania countryside southeast of Youngstown. The heavy iron equipment must have been too difficult or expensive to move from the site when the well was capped decades ago, according to the National Park Service.

A park service historian noted the remarkably preserved pump’s advanced design was “technologically significant as representing an early gear-driven pumping jack, designed during a period of great pumping jack experimentation in the early 1900s.”

Calendar-2015-Cover

The 2015 “Today in American Petroleum History” calendar offers industry milestones with 12 oil patch photographs from the Library of Congress.

Gilbert’s photograph is among 12 from the Library of Congress collection featured in the 2015 “Today in American Petroleum History” calender published by the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. The annual calendar features industry milestones, including oilfield discoveries, inventions, pioneers, and more. Sales (order here) support the society’s energy education mission.

Powder Mill Oil Well

The rusting pump jack near Powder Mill Creek and Connoquenessing Creek recalls one of many Pennsylvania petroleum booms.

The Bald Ridge field in Butler County was one of the state’s top three oil-producing counties from 1889 into the 1920s. Prolific discoveries beginning as early as 1872 eventually brought hundreds of steam-powered, cable-tool drilling rigs.

On this site circa 1914, on land owned by a man named Heckert, a Bream Oil Company drilling rig reached 1,566 feet – and struck an oil-producing “pay sand” six feet thick. (more…)

Blue Flame Natural Gas Rocket Car

Blue Flame Natural Gas Rocket Car

Industry executives recognized the public relations potential of LNG after watching Dick Keller’s dragster X-1 in 1968.

blue flame

The Blue Flame made a spectacular debut at the Bonneville Salt Flats on October 23, 1970, setting a new world land speed record of 630.388 mph.

The quest for speed perhaps began when Mrs. Karl Benz secretly took her husband’s car on the first road trip in 1882. Steam and electric vehicles would soon compete with the cantankerous combustion of gasoline engines.

As engine technologies evolved, high-octane but dangerous enhancers like tetraethyl gas were adopted for aviation. On the ground, as competition intensified for a land speed record, kerosene-based rocket fuel powered blistering, new milestones.

But in 1970, a sleek blue feat of engineering set the world record of 630 mph. The Blue Flame was powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG). In recent years, a growing abundance of U.S. natural gas supplies promises innovation for applying what is often called the “fuel of the future.” (more…)

Offshore Rocket Launcher

Converted drilling platform becomes equatorial rocket launch pad.

 

Offshore Rocket Launcher

Russian-built rockets once launched satellites from the Ocean Odyssey, a modified semi-submersible drilling platform. Photo courtesy Sea Launch.

Many offshore oil and natural gas platforms have found use after retirement. Hundreds of former platforms today serve as aquatic habitats in the Gulf of Mexico (see Rigs to Reefs). Two historic jack-up drilling rigs are museums and energy education centers in Texas and Louisiana. One retired self-propelled platform once launched rockets.

Ten percent (about 450) of decommissioned production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico have been converted to permanent reefs, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

A retired jack-up drilling rig in Galveston Bay, Texas, the Ocean Star, opened as a petroleum museum in 1997 after drilling more than 200 wells. Another offshore museum, Mr. Charlie of Morgan City, Louisiana, was the first submersible drilling rig in 1953.

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The Ocean Odyssey, a self-propelled, semi-submersible drilling platform designed to endure 110 foot North Atlantic waves, became a floating equatorial launch pad. In March 1999, a Russian Zenit-3SL rocket – fueled by kerosene and liquid oxygen – placed a demonstration satellite into geostationary orbit from the Ocean Odyssey’s remote Pacific Ocean launch site (Latitude 0° North, Longitude 154° West).

offshore rocket launher

Constructed in Japan in 1982, the Ocean Odyssey was designed to endure 110 foot North Atlantic waves before it became a floating equatorial launch pad. Photo courtesy Sea Launch.

Sea Launch, a Boeing-led consortium of companies from the United States, Russia, Ukraine and Norway, began commercial launches on October 9, 1999, using a Russian Zenit-3SL rocket with a DirecTV satellite payload. By 2014 the Ocean Odyssey had made 36 such launches for XM Satellite Radio, Echo Star and communication companies.

Originally to have been named Ocean Ranger II, the $110 million platform was under construction in Yokosuka, Japan, on February 15, 1982, when its namesake and predecessor tragically capsized in a North Atlantic storm off Newfoundland, killing all 84 men aboard. Renamed Ocean Odyssey, the new offshore drilling platform went to work that same year.

Between April 1983 and September 1985 the platform drilled off the coasts of Alaska and California before a two-year hiatus. In early 1988, the Ocean Odyssey was contracted to Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) for North Sea explorations. All was well until September 1988 when a blow-out and fire ended the rig’s career in oilfields.

offshore rocket launcher

Led by a Boeing, the Sea Launch consortium of international companies used Russian Zenit-3SL rockets to carry communications satellites into geosynchronous orbits. Photo courtesy Sea Launch.

After spending the several years as a rusting hulk in the docks of Dundee, Scotland, advancing aerospace technologies came to the rescue of the self-propelled platform, 436 feet long and about 220 feet wide.

The advantages of space launches from the equator – and the availability of the Ocean Odyssey – prompted Boeing to convert the rig into a launch platform. According to experts, the speed of earth’s rotation is greatest at the equator, providing a minor extra launch “boost.”

By April 1995, Boeing (with 40 percent ownership) led a four-country joint partnership, Sea Launch LLC. The venture included: Russia (25 percent), Norway (20 percent), and Ukraine (15 percent).

offshore rocket launcher

Ocean Odyssey’s last launch on May 26, 2014, came as civil war broke out in Ukraine. Bankruptcy and years of litigation followed. Photo courtesy Steve Jurvetson.

Another decomissioned offshore platform, the Ocean Star, opened as a museum in 1997 in Galveston Bay.

Another platform, the Ocean Star, opened as a museum in 1997 in Galveston Bay.

Thanks to Ocean Odyssey, a new industry was “launched.”The consortium established its U.S. home port in Long Beach, California, near satellite, aerospace and maritime supply companies. Before the end of 1995, Hughes Space and Communications had contracted for 10 launches.

However, economic and legal troubles emerged. After almost 40 launches (with three failures), operating costs and a declining world economy led to Sea Launch’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy and reorganization in 2009. Russia emerged with 95 percent ownership.

Then began litigation, claims and counter-claims within the Sea Launch consortium. Ocean Odyssey’s last launch in May 2014 came as civil war broke out in Ukraine.

According to financial reports, the company’s debt when it filed for bankruptcy was estimated at $1 billion, with assets of $100 million to $500 million. The cost per launch was more than $80 million. Boeing sued to recoup $356 million of a reported $978 million loss in loans, trade debt and partner liabilities.

At the end of 2014, the Ocean Odyssey and its command ship, Sea Launch Commander, remained at port in Long Beach.

Learn about America’s Offshore Petroleum History and visit the Ocean Star Offshore Energy Center in Galveston and Mr. Charlie in Morgan City.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information: Article Title: “Offshore Rocket Launcher.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/technology/offshore-rocket-launcher. Last Updated: October 7, 2019.