Saturday, May 08, 2010

My Oil Rig Experience

The explosion on the oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico brought back memories of my own visit to an oil rig in that body of water. The one I was on did not blow up, but it still scared me silly.

I was working for Natomas Company at the time. It no longer exists having been bought and sold many times. My job at that time was to go out on the rig with my photographer to get shots for the annual report. This was in the late 1970s.

We flew to Houston and got a ride to Galveston with an oil worker. We were supposed to helicopter to the rig but it was too foggy so we went in the crew boat. Crews changed on this rig every seven days. You can see the helicopter pad on the left in the photo. Also note the cranes.

We stayed up with the skipper because a lot of the crew down below were hung over; the odor was not pleasant. I even got to drive the crew boat.

As we got closer to the rig, I asked the captain where the stairs were that we would climb to the deck of the rig. No stairs he replied and mentioned how dangerous it would be for the boat to bump up against the rig. Didn't want to rig to fall on our little boat.

That's when I noticed the cranes. With a growing sense of dread, I asked how were we going to get up there. The crane operator lowered a flotation collar, like the kind you would throw overboard if someone fell in the water, to the deck of the gently rocking boat. Ropes went from the collar up to the hook that was attached to the crane. I wore a life jacket and stood on the collar along with my photographer. He thought it was hilarious that I was so scared. In fact he took close-up photos of me as we ascended. I had my eyes closed the whole time. My heart felt like it was going to come out of my chest. And no, I'm not sharing those photos.

The crane operator gently lowered the flotation collar to the rig deck. As we stepped off I looked down at the grating that served as the deck. You could see all the way to the water. My panic continued as I discovered that there was grating everywhere except in the crew cabins, offices and mess. I labored up some stairs to the superintendent's office and did not leave there until I was lowered to the rocking crew boat below.

My photographer did a great job of getting pictures. I prayed the fog would lift so the helicopter could come for us. No such luck. Several hours later I approached the crane operator and told him I was sure he was a nice guy; he would get me back to the boat without any bodily harm. I also mentioned that I had a three-year-old son at home. He had that telltale lump on his face to the right of his lower teeth. Sure sign of a tobacco chewer. He smiled, then I knew for sure.

We climbed onto the flotation collar, were swung out over the water and then lowered to the crew boat ,which was rocking more than in the morning. I hope you get the picture. Little target rocking around in the ocean and crane operator many stories up aiming for the boat deck. I closed my eyes and a few minutes later we were on the deck taking off our life jackets. My adrenaline was flowing like crazy. I had done it; granted it wasn't my best work performance but I had survived.

We got a ride back to Houston with an oil rig worker driving a huge Cadillac convertible. He took the top down, bought two six packs of beer, which we all shared, and delivered us to the Guest Quarters Hotel in Houston. The adrenaline plus two bottles of beer made me a very happy drunk. The doorman was a bit surprised by our demeanor but a big tip turned that attitude around; he got us safely out of the car with all of our gear and up to our rooms. He even smiled.

So that's another one of my life adventures. More to come now that I'm not writing about food so much.
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Rondi said...

I'd be fine with everything but the open flooring. I've never had a problem with heights but learned at the CN Tower in Toronto that I do not like being able to see straight down. Now I know to look out and over but never straight down.

Oklahoma Girl said...

What a cool experience!! I worked for several oil companies over the years, a drilling company in OKC, Hunt Oil in Dallas. I am terrified at heights (my only fear) so I would have probably died on the spot. LOL I did go out to a well site on night with a guy I dated at the time. They were running pipe & since daily drilling reports were called into me, I wanted to see what it all actually looked like not just the words on paper.

Looking forward to more stories. Have a wonderful week!!

~~blessed be...