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Offshore and Subsea Facilities

In 1859, Col. Edwin Drake drilled and completed the first known oil well near a small town in Pennsylvania, U.S.A. This well, which was drilled with cable tools, started the modern petroleum industry. In 1897, near Summerland, California, U.S.A., H.L. Williams extended an offshore oil field into the Santa Barbara Channel by drilling a submarine well from a pier. This first offshore well was drilled just 38 years after Col. Drake’s well. Five years later, more than 150 offshore wells were producing oil. Production from the California piers continues today.

In the late 1920s, steel production piers, which extended 1/4 mile into the ocean at Rincon and Elwood, California, were built, and new high-producing wells stimulated exploration activity. In 1932, a small company called Indian Petroleum Corp. determined that there was a likely prospect about 1/2 mile from shore. Instead of building a monumentally long pier, they decided to build a portion of a pier with steel piles and cross-members. Adding a deck and barging in a derrick completed the installation. By September 1932, the 60 × 90-ft "steel island" was completed in 38 ft of water. This was the first open-seas offshore platform and supported a standard 122-ft steel derrick and associated rotary drilling equipment. In January 1940, a Pacific storm destroyed the steel island. During the subsequent cleanup, divers were used for the first time to remove well casing and set abandonment plugs.

Meanwhile, the first offshore field was discovered in the Gulf of Mexico in 1938. A well was drilled to 9,000 ft off the coast of Texas in 1941. With the start of World War II, however, offshore activities came to a halt. Activity did not resume until 1945, when the state of Louisiana held its first offshore lease sale. In 1947, the first platform "out of sight of the land" was built off the coast of Louisiana in 20 ft of water.

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