Offshore drilling: extracting petroleum and natural gas from the seabed | Photo: Shutterstock

Offshore drilling is the process of extracting petroleum and natural gas from the seabed using a fixed or mobile platform located off the coast in the open ocean and deepwater regions.

The mechanical process of drilling oil from the continental was first experimented on in Grand Lake St. Marys, Ohio, United States, in 1891.

Five years later, it was tried for the first time in saltwater under the Santa Barbara Channel.

The Summerland Field debuted the world's first offshore oil well, drilled from piers extending from land out into the local channel.

As new production facilities spread to Canada, Louisiana, Texas, Venezuela, and Mexico, oil companies were forced to move to deeper waters.

Initially, they built fixed platform rigs for water depths of 100 feet (30.4 meters).

Soon after, they were already operating in jack-up rigs or floating production platforms, offshore drillships, and drilling semi-submersibles.

Offshore oil platforms: they can be fixed or mobile | Photo: Shutterstock

A Global Industry

Today, offshore drilling activity is a multi-billion-dollar industry capable of operating in water depths up to 9,800 feet (2,987 meters).

There are currently around 500 mobile and fixed offshore oil rigs worldwide.

The majority of the world's offshore rigs are located in the North Sea, Gulf of Mexico, Persian Gulf, Far East, Southeast Asia, Mexico, Western Africa, South Asia, Brazil, Venezuela, and the Caspian Sea.

The installation of deepwater wells can take years of planning and preparation.

After identifying potential reservoirs using seismic technology, a drill site is selected, and an exploratory well is installed.

Offshore oil rigs are equipped with a hoisting system to raise and lower the drill pipe, tools needed to drill the well, a Blow Out Preventer (BOP stack), and a pumping system used to circulate fluids in and out of the well while drilling.

The process of penetrating the seafloor and extracting oil and gas involves multiple steps, including the use of cement, drilling mud, and engineering techniques.

Oil spills: offshore drilling could be potentially harmful to the environment | Photo: Shutterstock

Pros and Cons

Offshore drilling is a highly lucrative business, but it is also a highly dangerous activity with high environmental and health risks.

Some of the worst environmental disasters the planet has ever seen were associated with offshore drilling.

On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon semi-submersible Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit (MODU) exploded and caused the largest marine oil spill of all time.

The $560 million offshore drilling platform spilled over 130 million gallons of oil (3.19 million barrels) into the Gulf of Mexico over 87 days.

Fires and explosions at oil rigs have also killed 167 people at Piper Alpha, 123 at Alexander L. Kielland, 91 crew members of Seacrest Drillship, 84 people at Ocean Ranger, 81 members of the Glomar Java Sea Drillship, 72 professionals of the Bohai, 42 people at the Enchova Central Platform, and many more at Mumbai High North, Usumacinta Jack-up, C.P. Baker Drilling Barge, etc.

Offshore drilling is an irresistible temptation for many countries.

It provides domestic economic self-sufficiency, creates jobs, boosts the economy of oil-based products, and attracts investment funds.

However, offshore drilling accidents can destroy the marine life ecosystem in a matter of days.

It is also a significant source of several air pollutants, requires large kick-off investments, and has negative impacts on our health.

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