By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
A furry and unexpected guest recently swam to an oil rig 135 miles off the Thai coast, NPR reported. A dog surprised workers on the oil rig, who rescued him from the water and cared for him until they could return him to land. Luckily, the pup avoided the common hazards and dangers of offshore energy life.
According to the NPR article, Vitisak Payalaw, an offshore planner for Chevron Thailand Exploration & Production, and three of his colleagues spent 15 minutes working to save the dog from the ocean. After his successful retrieval, they fed him and made him a kennel in which to sleep. The team named him “Boonrod,” which is said to mean, “He has done good karma and that helps him to survive.” Payalaw plans to adopt Boonrod at the end of the month when he returns from his time on the rig. However, Boonrod is very fortunate; working to collect oil and gas in distant locales like the open ocean comes with many complexities and hazards.
Oil Rig Rescue – Choosing the Right Rig for the Job
Offshore oil drilling began as a natural extension of onshore oil drilling over a century ago. Summerland, California, is home to the world’s first offshore drilling site. “There was an onshore region that had been drilled and was well-known as a nice producing field, and it went right up to the coastline, so it was probably a pretty natural extension to build some piers and keep drilling offshore,” said Dr. Harold J. Tobin, Professor of Geoscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As more oil fields are drilled and depleted, companies push their rigs further and further out to sea.
Fields in shallower waters use oil rigs that stand on the sea floor. “There are things called jack-up rigs which are floated into place, and then legs are jacked down to the sea floor and stand them up,” Dr. Tobin said. “There are platforms with very complex foundations, similar to foundations of large buildings and structures, bridges and [other] things on land.”
However, when the ocean depths surpass several hundred feet, jack-up rigs become impractical and ineffective. At these depths, rig platforms have to float, often using pontoon systems. “Some of them are called semisubmersible rigs because a large part of the mass is actually underwater to keep it stable in the waves, and then they’re tethered down with cable systems so that they stay in place,” Dr. Tobin said.
The Deepwater Horizon Incident
In 2010, a state-of-the-art drilling platform, the Deepwater Horizon, suffered a massive catastrophe that resulted in an 83-day oil spill. But how did it happen? “Oil and natural gas are trapped under high pressure because they’re deep below the ground,” Dr. Tobin said. “When [energy companies] tap that with an oil well, oil drillers are careful to maintain a high back pressure against that to keep it trapped in the well or to shut it in.”
Dr. Tobin explained that due to a miscalculation of the required back pressure, natural gas leaked into the well and shot up towards the surface and into the rig, depressurizing and expanding along the way in what’s called a blowout. A spark on the rig set off the explosion of gas on the Deepwater Horizon, sinking it and breaking the pipe that connected the rig to the seabed. The estimated release of oil into the open ocean was 5 million barrels.
Offshore oil drilling is a profitable and perilous industry of dynamic machinery and dangerous risks. In light of this, it seems Boonrod the dog and Vitisak Payalaw forged a new friendship in a very unlikely place. Boonrod’s point of origin remains unknown, but his future—and that of his new master—look bright together.
Dr. Harold J. Tobin contributed to this article. Dr. Tobin is Professor of Geoscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He earned his B.S. in Geology and Geophysics from Yale University and his Ph.D. in Earth Sciences from the University of California, Santa Cruz.