A Report from Energy Ant — My Trip to an Offshore Platform off the Santa Barbara Coast
I just got back from the coolest fieldtrip! No, not to Disneyland. I’m an ant, and not tall enough to ride the rides. My trip was to an offshore oil platform. An offshore platform is more than just a workplace. The people who work out on these giant platforms also live on them for weeks at a time. OK, I am getting ahead of myself.
First off, this particular offshore platform is anchored to the ocean floor. Oil beneath the ocean is pumped up through thousands of feet of piping to the facility. From the platform, the oil is either sent by pipeline to land or loaded onto tankers(boats) to be shipped to land. The way it gets to land depends on how far out to sea the facility is and how deep the water is. If you want to know more about offshore oil and gas facilities and offshore energy, check out the Offshore Energy section of this site.
My fieldtrip did not start on the offshore platform. Nope, it started on dry land, in Ventura, California. I got a lift from my friends at the U.S. Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service. We climbed into a helicopter and headed out to our destination. From the helicopter I could see our landing pad. It looked so little from high up, but these things are huge! The biggest ones could hold a football field, and some of them are as tall as a 25-story building. The platform Im going to visit isnt quite that humongous, but it is pretty big.
I mentioned earlier that when you work on an oil platform, you also live on the platform, and with a helicopter commute, you can see why. Different platforms and companies have different work schedules. Some of this depends on who owns your platform and some of it depends on how far out to sea you have to go to get to work. Usually you get one of two schedules. Two weeks on, two weeks off or four weeks on, four weeks off. Sounds like a lot of vacation, but when you are on the rig, you are always working.
No plush bedroom here. You sleep in a bunk. Plenty of stuff to keep the crew entertained though. Between the big screen TV, the foosball and the beautiful ocean view, you might never want to go back to shore. Which is good because you really cant go back to shore while youre working. The rig also has some of the stuff you are used to seeing in your house. There is a laundry room. Yes, oil platform workers do have to clean their clothes too. And meals? Theres a dining hall for that. No need to cook for yourself.
Outside of the college dorm-like living arrangements is where the work actually takes place. The workers are, after all, here to work. Computers on the rig control most of the oil extraction. A crane on the platform can get things from boats in the ocean below or to move heavy things on the rig itself. Maintaining the platform and all the piping that goes to the sea floor is a full time job itself. Learn more about jobs on offshore oil rigs.
The most important thing on a platform is safety. Safety drills are practiced regularly and equipment is provided for any type of emergency you could imagine. They showed me how to use all of the safety equipment but they didnt have an ant sized mask to fit me.
What a cool tour. Too bad I have to go back to land. But my chariot (Oh, I mean my helicopter) awaits me. Thanks to all the folks who let me visit them at their workplace and home away from home, and especially to the U.S. Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service (MMS) for making this trip possible! Learn more about offshore production and natural resources on the MMS Kids' Page (leaving this site).