Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

At the Deepwater Horizon disaster site

[I mourn the passing of Sen. Robert Byrd, and will post some recollections of the senator later today.]

Here's my story on the trip to the DDII drilling rig in the gulf.


The view from the chopper. This shot doesn't capture how many ships are within 5 miles. On the bridge of the Development Driller II the radar showed 64 ships not counting the DDII.


The Q4000, flaring oil and gas non-stop. I was told it's so hot on deck that the crew aren't allowed outside for more than one minute at a time.


When we landed on the rig, John Antoine, a roustabout, wearing a fire suit, stood by with a water cannon. He's 36, from Lafayette, La.. "If the helicopter catches on fire, I would use the water to put out the fire," he said. I asked if he was hot in that fire suit. "I'm trying to lose a couple pounds," he said.


Chris Wokowsky, the Offshore Installation Manager, also known as the boss for Transcocean on this rig. The derrick rising above him is 228 feet tall.


Captain Matt Michalski is the rig's master, and a surfer dude in San Diego when he's not out in the middle of the gulf.


Drillpipe above the drilling deck, heavy stuff. There's a lot of hardware in this place. No one has to remind you to wear a hardhat.


The moon pool. The pipe in rear is the riser from the well 5100 feet below.


What it's all about: Oil in the water.


Lots of it.


From Mudge, a primer on the ships mentioned in the story:

Discoverer Enterprise
835 feet long (a tad shorter than an Iowa-class battleship, a bit longer than any aircraft carrier of World War II). Can accommodate a crew of up to 200 people.
Built by Astano, in Spain. Can operate in winds to 80 knots and waves to 40 feet. Can ride out a storm to 100 knots and waves to 50 feet (according to design specs).
Can accommodate helicopter up to a Sikorsky S-61 Sea King or a Boeing CH-47 Chinook size. (The Presidential helicopter is basically an S-61, though it goes by a different designation.)
Main propulsion is diesel-electric, the same as virtually every submarine built between 1900 and 1960, and same as the new Queen Mary II: diesel engines that drive generators that drive electric motors. In this case, four 9,772 hp engines that drive six 8,700 kva 11,000v generators that power six 7,000 hp thrusters drawing 5,500kw, at 1,260 volts AC.
Owned by Transocean, registered in the Marshall Islands, so that's whose flag she flies.

Essentially a mobile platform on two pontoons each 312 feet long by 42.7 feet wide by 26.6 feet deep. It is 97 feet from the bottom of the pontoon to the top of the weather deck, meaning the main deck. She has a crew of 71 and can house up to 63 additional people (the clients, etc.)
She is powered by six diesel engine generator sets of 3,520 kW each that drive four aft thrusters and two forward thrusters, each of 2,900 kW at 900 rpm.
Helicopter pad can take a Sikorsky S-61. Four 70-person lifeboats and 8 25-person liferafts. Two water-makers can make up to 6,600 gallons a day.
A U.S. flag vessel owned by Cal Dive Int'l and operated by Helix Energy Solutions.

Development Driller II
The Wiki entry is better than Transocean's:
Built by PPL Shipyard in Singapore and flag registered in Vanuatu, but owned by Transocean.
380 feet by 283 feet. Propelled by 8 thrusters of 4,300 hp each. Has crew capacity for 176.
Development Driller III
Here's a photo that shows the Development Driller III in the foreground, the Q4000 (red pontoons) in the middle, and the Discoverer Enterprise beyong her, surrounded by supply ships and tenders.
Built by Keppel AmFELS in Singapore. Flag is registered in Vanuatu. Owned by Transocean.
384 feet by 256 feet. Powered by eight Caterpillar Model 3616 diesel engine/generator sets.

By Joel Achenbach  |  June 28, 2010; 8:39 AM ET
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: 'Oil spill'
Next: Senator Robert C. Byrd


Whoa! Awesome pictures. Is it normal that the crew wouldn't be allowed out during that operation or are they flaring more than is standard due to the situation?

Posted by: cowhand214 | June 28, 2010 9:02 AM | Report abuse

Yesterday there was mention the beginning phase of this disaster may end sooner than mid-August, even by mid-July. But we've learned about wish fulfillment, again and again.

Posted by: shrink2 | June 28, 2010 9:17 AM | Report abuse

The Q4000 is a well-servicing rig that will go in and tweak a well, change it around a bit, after it's already in the production stage. What it's not necessarily designed to do is burn 10,000 barrels of oil and god knows how much gas. It's been fitted with what's called an Evergreen burner that supposedly gives a "clean burn" of the oil and gas.

Posted by: joelache | June 28, 2010 9:18 AM | Report abuse

Wow... amazing pictures. You be careful out there, Joel.

The answer to this morning's earlier question is the Piedmont Family Restaurant on South Blvd. Great grits, but you'll have to be there before 11 if you go during the week. I think they have grits all day on weekends, but we're not usually willing to test that.

I passed by Jack's L&S diner in Harrisonburg just a couple of weeks ago. I ate breakfast that morning at the Little Grill Collective a few blocks away.

Looking in the window of the L&S that morning after breakfast, I was thinking you probably couldn't see two more different groups of diners.

Posted by: -TBG- | June 28, 2010 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for answering. Not been to the Piedmont Family R. For grits that last all morning I usually add simmering water - not cold - every so often. Grits just get better that way instead of thicker & drier.

All the oil biz makes me nostalgic. I get over it upon reflection however.

Hope you ate in the galley, Joel. Hope you like rice. My first time offshore we went to meet the company man and found him shouting at the galley hand who had brought him dinner in his office. "T-bone steak AGAIN?!" he yelled as he hurled the plate out the door. The man was not actually a bad guy, he just was overworked.

Frenvy on the chopper ride. Beats the heck out of a long boat ride to work.

Posted by: Jumper1 | June 28, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, y'all.

Warm muffins, coffee and OJ on the table.

Small snafu necessitated early morning errands so I apologize for being late w/ the food.

Thank you for the article and photos, Mr. A. I have a question: every time I see the phrase "clean burn" it is in quotes. What is it they are doing that necessitates the use of the quotes, and how clean is "clean"? Also, is there a perimeter around the Q4000 to keep other vessels out of harms' way in the event of an unanticipated incident in the flaring of all this volatile stuff?

Posted by: MsJS | June 28, 2010 10:13 AM | Report abuse

Netherlands leading Slovakia 1-0 after about 25 mintues...

Posted by: Scottynuke | June 28, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Matt Michalski reminds me of Robert FitzRoy becoming captain of the Beagle at age 23.

There's still important work that doesn't require being at a university or hospital until early middle age. Or waiting until someone retires (OK, FitzRoy got a career boost because someone died).

Onshore drilling technology is impressive enough.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | June 28, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Were I a betting man, I'd bet that "clean burn" means less soot/particulate matter than would otherwise be the case.

Obviously, it's still combining carbon & oxygen and sending it into the air, cuz' that's what burning oil & gas is all about.

Posted by: bobsewell | June 28, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Stoichiometric combustion.

Posted by: Jumper1 | June 28, 2010 10:57 AM | Report abuse

I think Stoichiometric scored the Netherlands goal...

Posted by: Scottynuke | June 28, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

I wondered about the turnout gear on the guy in photo 3. Mr. T says probably a Nomex/Kevlar blend. They are behind the times with that, but who am I to comment?

It's a heck of a job, and I hope they get it done soon, without weather interruptions.

Posted by: slyness | June 28, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

2-0 Netherlands, Slovakia's got 5-8 mintues to avoid heading home.

Posted by: Scottynuke | June 28, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse

Slovakia gets on the board just before time expires, good to see they didn't pack it in early.

Posted by: Scottynuke | June 28, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

New Kit!

Posted by: Scottynuke | June 28, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Anybody know why an engine/generator combination is the preferred alternative for these vessels... as opposed to, say, just the engines? Perhaps the same benefit as a hybrid, that is fuel efficiency?


Posted by: tysonsara1 | June 28, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

At least one advantage is that the engine can be located anywhere on the ship that's convenient, instead of needing to be mechanically connected to the propulsion system. I also suspect that the diesel engine can be run at its most efficient speed nearly all of the time, regardless of the load placed on the generator, gaining fuel efficiency.

Posted by: bobsewell | June 28, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Wow. Eye witness. Write a convincing piece, Joel.

Posted by: Windy3 | June 30, 2010 12:24 AM | Report abuse

Actually, you did!

Posted by: Windy3 | June 30, 2010 12:25 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company