Undersea Oil Drilling Research Papers Examples
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Undersea oil drilling is also known as offshore drilling. It is the process of extracting oil from a known oil deposit hundreds to thousands of kilometers under the sea towards the ocean floor. This is commonly done miles away from shore and from the continental shelf to the sea floor depending on the results of tests being done by oil or drilling companies (Dragani and Kotenev, Deepwater Development: What Past Performance Says About the Future”)
Although difficult to extract than land based oil extractions, undersea oil drilling is now a common way of getting oil out for production and for use. Oil is found underneath the ocean due to the presence of planktons. And also by other prehistoric oceanic creatures that died millions of years ago which is similar to their land based counterparts. Today, oil rigs are a commonplace from the Gulf of Mexico in the United States to the North Sea and even in some places in the Pacific (Lamb, “How Offshore Drilling Works”).
Undersea oil drilling holds for 22% of total oil production during 2000, according to Infield Systems’ “Offshore Outlook”.
However, oil extracted from the sea the way we know it did not happen as we know it now. Undersea oil was first extracted from shore in state of California in the United States in 1897 and was thought that it would not be possible going beyond the shore. That thought held true until 1938 on freshwater and in 1947 on saltwater. Since then, companies have attempted further beyond the coast and deeper on the ocean floor (American Oil and Gas Historical Society, “Offshore Petroleum History”).
There are many ways at which oil can be extracted. It can depend on depth of the wells. Maersk Drilling, for example, is doing this in three ways: the jack up rig, the semi-submersible and the drill ship.
The jack up rig is perhaps the most known of the three methods. It needs the pulling of a large rig from land to the site of extraction, and then underwater piers are added to plant the rig to the sea floor. This method is done at a water depth of approximately 50 to 350 meters and a drilling depth of more than 9,000 meters. The semi-submersible is what may be described as a hybrid between the rig and a ship since it is not firmly anchored to the sea floor. This method operates at a water depth of approximately 500 to 3,000 meters and a drilling depth of more than 10,000 meters. The drillship method uses a specially built vessel for oil extraction. The said ship operates at a water depth of approximately 500 to 3,650 meters with more than 12,000 meters drilling depth (Maersk Drilling, “The Drilling Industry”).
There are a series of step that have to be followed and observed before extractions can actually take place from examination to the full drilling.
First, exploration ships search the ocean for either magnetic irregularities or seismic activity that can mean that oil is underneath. The use of magnetic surveying equipment is used for testing magnetic irregularities and is less harmful to the environment. The second method, which is seismic activity, uses shock waves or sound waves to see if there are rock layers found underneath the ocean floor. The waves then travel back to the surface and is detected by wave-detecting equipment aboard the ship. However, the second method is harmful to fishes and other sea creatures that may be hit by the said waves (Lamb, “How Offshore Drilling Works”).
After gathering data, geologists study the results of the survey and determine if there is possibility or basis for oil extraction. Once determined that there is a possibility, the company will go back to the shore and would request the government to issue permits for experimental drilling. Experimental or exploratory drilling happens when the ship goes back to the site located and drills holes on the sea floor with the intention of getting rock samples. This may take month and many holes to do so. The samples are then analyzed by the geologists (Lamb, “How Offshore Drilling Works”).
Sometimes, the samples that they analyzed would come out positive for undersea oil. However if the samples come out to be positive or what geologists would call a “show”, analyses are determined for the possibility of extraction, such as depth, technology needed, and cost-benefit analysis. There are times where oil may be too deep to reclaim or that it may be hard to extract as it may not be liquid such as petroleum or natural gas (Lamb, “How Offshore Drilling Works”).
Yet, if the samples turn out to be good for extraction, actual extraction begins with what is called production drilling. It is at this point where the rigs are sent in and drilling starts with oil pumped out towards the surface (Lamb, “How Offshore Drilling Works”).
However, not all drilling is done in vertical manner. Some drills are done horizontally if at lower waters to maximize the area of extraction on a single tube. Drill bits that are made of industrial diamond drill deep into the ground until it reaches the desired depth. Then, flexible tubes or marine risers are then sent to the drilled portion so that oil or natural gas can flow towards the rig above. Mud that comes from the drill bit is also extracted and then some of it treated with water and other chemicals to serve as an oil for the drill bits. In places where pressure is large, a blowout prevention system is added to the well that can safely prevent the oil from rushing too much up the surface or spill to the sea (Lamb, “How Offshore Drilling Works”).
A typical oil well in the sea is estimated to last for many years’ even decades. However, in the event that it runs out or is depleted, the oil well is closed with cements (Lamb, “How Offshore Drilling Works”).
The oil rig in the event of exhaustion may still be used to extract other wells in the area, or it can also be used to serve as some sort of central gathering station from other oil rigs in the area, thereby extending its usefulness. However, if the rig is no longer used, the attachments that keep it firm the ground are cut off and the rig is pulled off where it is needed (Maersk Drilling, “The Drilling Industry”).
There are two types of oil or natural gas that may be taken out of the oil rig at sea, this are wet and dry natural gas.
Wet natural gas contains other liquids that are extracted with the desired product, but are not good for the quality of the said oil or gas. What the people at the oil rig do is when it comes up, the gas or oil is first filtered in the rig and at times burned to prevent the stockpiling of waste. Then the filtered product is then gathered. Dry natural gas contains only the pure oil or natural gas itself. This means it is easier to extract and is deemed more advantageous than wet natural gas (Lamb, “How Offshore Drilling Works”).
Once the oil is extracted, the rigs send them through pipes for processing and then loaded to oil tankers. These tankers are then sent to oil refineries for further processing such as diesel, gasoline, lubricants, jet fuel, etc. which are then sent to gas stations, airports, factories and other places where oil is needed.
Despite its benefits in getting us more oil to be used for our everyday needs, there are issues on undersea oil drilling.
Use of sound waves when surveying for undersea oil has a harmful effect on underwater creatures due to sound pollution, which may cause them to be confused or disturbed.
Underwater drilling can also harm the underwater environment. In a report of the United States National Resources Defense Council or NRDC (Waage and Chase, “Protecting Our Ocean and Coastal Economies: Avoid Unnecessary Risks from Offshore Drilling”), drilling can cause accidental oil spills that can damage coral reefs and cause damage to marine life when oil hits them.
Incidences of these have also gone beyond the sea and towards the beaches, which can cause the destruction of tourist spots and places of recreation.
In addition, hurricanes, underwater earthquakes, and other natural disasters may also threaten the people working and living on these oil rigs and can cause damage to the rig itself (Shell US, “Oil and Gas Offshore Production”).
Perhaps the most terrible of undersea oil drilling accidents was the blowup of the Deepwater Horizon in 2010 in the US, causing eleven deaths and injury to others. In a report to the President of the United States, the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Spill and Offshore Drilling (vii) concluded that the whole accident was avoidable and further studies regarding the safety of undersea drilling be conducted so as to prevent more accidents similar to this one.
Despite all the risks involved, undersea oil drilling is still a practical option in oil production, so long as we still rely on it.
American Oil and Gas Historical Society. “Offshore Petroleum History. n.d. Web. 27 February
Dragani, Jarrett and Maxim Kotenev. “Deepwater Development: What Past Performance Says
About the Future.” September 2013. Web. 2 March 2015.
Infield Systems. “Offshore Outlook.” n.d. Web. 27 February 2015
Lamb, Robert. “How Offshore Drilling Works.” Howstuffworks.com. 10 September
2008. Web. 27 February 2015.
Shell US. Oil and Gas Offshore Production. n.d. Web. 27 February 2015.
United States. National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore
Drilling. Deepwater: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling.
Washington. GPO. 2011. Print.
Waage, Melissa and Alison Chase. “Protecting Our Ocean and Coastal Economies: Avoid
Unnecessary Risks from Offshore Drilling”. National Resources Defense Council.
September 2009. Web. 27 February 2015.
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