The world has witnessed different engineering feats throughout history, combining function with impressive design. From tunnels and bridges to dams and railways, these structures have helped day-to-day living easier and more convenient. Engineers and designers have also gone their way to create big and bold structures that serve as a visual feast to the common eye.
In the ocean, though, lie structures that are taken for granted: the oil rig. The lonely giant lies in rock formations beneath the seabed and is used for the exploration and extraction of oil and gas.
The Anatomy of an Oil Rig
Oil rigs come in many types, although the fixed platform is the most commonly constructed, as they are designed for long-term use. They are built on concrete and/or steel legs and secured directly onto the seabed. These types of platforms are economically feasible to install in water depths up to 500 feet.
These behemoths are tall, imposing structures can be quietly seen from the coast of Singapore to the North Atlantic. Underneath these rigs is a complicated system composed of neoprene cables that withstand water, electric generators that supply power and other pieces of equipment necessary to drill oil.
Other types of oil rigs include compliant towers, drillships, jack-up rigs and tension-leg platforms.
A Well-Oiled Process
Once the rig has been secured, the team conducts a seismic survey to determine the potential location of oil or gas traps and how many wells can be drilled. The team then uses a derrick to drill wells on the potential oil or gas trap.
The wells are connected to the pipelines, which delivers oil and gas to the central processing facilities. Oil and gas then undergo processing, storage and wholesale marketing of the products to sites such as petrol stations.
The Benefits and Hazards Brought by Oil Drilling
Since its invention in the late 19th century, oil rigs have provided mainstream use of crude oil, one of the world’s most valuable resources. Oil has been used to power cars, planes and ships and as a raw material for various resources, from waxes to shampoo. The industry built around oil exploration and extraction has produced countless jobs and improved economies. Offshore exploration also benefits aquatic and atmospheric conditions, minimising natural oil seepage in the ocean.
However, as oil reserves decrease, oil drilling has brought serious effects to the environment. As companies take advantage of farther oil reserves, the chance of a spill increases. Oil spills kill animals and plants, disrupt local ecosystems and damage local business and tourism. Spilled oil also poses a health and safety hazard.
What Happens When the Well Runs Dry?
Eventually, oil and gas fields run dry, and oil rigs become mere piles of scrap metal. Their owners are contractually obliged to plug the wells, decommission the rigs and remove all related equipment from the site. The methods of decommissioning depend on the oil company, though many go by the cost-effective method of cutting the platforms from their supports, transferred to a barge, towed to shore then scrapped. Others abandon the rig altogether.
Other oil companies use a more environmentally friendly solution. The Rigs-to-Reefs practice, which begun in the United States and is now practised in Brunei and Malaysia, converts decommissioned oil rigs into coral reefs, providing shelter for marine life and encouraging further growth.
With their impressive design and function, it’s difficult to imagine a world without oil rigs. Despite recent criticisms about oil exploration, these giants standing on the sea are proof that society has developed thanks to the valuable resource they have helped extract.