Black Gold in the Deep Blue: Report from Ground Zero

Author's Note

This hub was originally published during the BP Oil Spill. Shortly after publishing, I was told any employee publishing on the web about the spill would result in immediate termination. What we didn't know at the time, was ironically, the oil spill would largely end the offshore careers of thousands of people in the Gulf by January 2011. I am working on a hub to explain the coming financial devastation that I have yet seen discussed in any media. For me, I too have been recently laid off from my career in the Gulf, and now, being unemployed, I think I want to talk about the oil spill! After-all, what are they going to do? Fire me? HA!

So here again, I post in its complete original state, Black Gold in the Deep Blue.
Sorry it is not current news, but I think it is historic reading.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

I wanted to start this hub over 3 weeks ago when I arrived on scene, but time for writing is short. When the incident first happened not much was said because no investigations had been done and little was known. Now, the news is everywhere. You probably know more over-all news regarding what is going on out here than I do as our news and information on the boat is very limited. However, I am on one of the submarine teams that is working 24 hours around the clock to stop this oil leak.

It is my hope in this hub you may learn something and see this whole situation in a frontline perspective the news can not give you. This is a report on location from someone actually involved with the project and not some reporter sitting in New York making phone calls.

This Hub will be updated as I can. I work long hours seven days a week. However, be sure to check back often as I will add new content as things develop and time goes along. First, I have to get this report up to speed.

I am writing this for the readers on Hubpages, though others may stumble upon it across the web my intent is for you, the fine people here on Hubpages.

- Harlan

City on the Sea

Over 100 large ships, drill ships, floating platforms, construction boats and service boats are gathered to form a floating city at "Ground Zero."
Over 100 large ships, drill ships, floating platforms, construction boats and service boats are gathered to form a floating city at "Ground Zero."
The ships are so large its hard to get the whole scene in one picture unless you're in the air. The above two pictures are the typical view in every direction.
The ships are so large its hard to get the whole scene in one picture unless you're in the air. The above two pictures are the typical view in every direction.

City on the Sea

When I work on the ocean, I typically spend 45-60 days at a time at sea. In the offshore industry this is referred to as a “hitch.” When I got the call to go to sea, I had no clue that I would be going out to work the Mississippi Canyon, Block 252, or as you probably know it, The Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill.

Despite the long and tedious time offshore, this hitch is important to me. Foremost, the Gulf and its offshore industries are vital to many facets of the American economy and they depend of the health of these waters. Second, many of most reputable offshore companies operating in the Gulf have come together to work as a team. There are over 1700 ships involved in this project. At my location there are over 100 large construction and support ships gathered here, and by pure coincidence, I am sitting on a ship right over the top of this disaster.

To look out across the water, especially at night, it appears as a floating city stretching in every direction. This “team” is doing everything, no expense spared to stop this leak.

Smoke on the water

Oil burning on the surface of the water in the distance.
Oil burning on the surface of the water in the distance.
A few times we have had to wear breather masks due to the air quality, not because of the smoke, but because of the fumes coming off the water from the oil.
A few times we have had to wear breather masks due to the air quality, not because of the smoke, but because of the fumes coming off the water from the oil.

Why is it taking so long to stop the leak?

People on land are frustrated. They want to know why it is taking so long to stop the leak. I will try to explain. Everything you do at the well site is nearly a mile away, 5000 feet below - in pitch black water. There is no light at 5000 feet deep. To even begin the job, you have to know everything about the site and its surrounding area. First we go down with the robot submarines, ( Remotely Operated Vehicles or ROV’s) and survey the sea floor, the debris, the well head, and the sunken oil rig; everything is mapped on a computer. It must be determined what is there, what is needed, where to stage things and how to put it all together.

At 5000 feet below the surface it takes time. The equipment we use weighs several tons. It has to be lowered which can take an hour or more, then it has to be positioned into place and put together with hydralic tools fitted to our submarines. Hooking all this up can take several hours to several days just to get one phase of the job done. Every job is done according to safety standards. We have a rule on the ship, if it cannot be done safely, we stop the job and make it safe first. Anyone can stop the job; from the Captian down to the common worker everyone has ALL-STOP authority on the job to make a situation safe for all. The many regulations we use also make the job much slower, but where someone's life is concerned, its the only option.

A Place to Park Your Gear

    Next, we lower concrete mats to the sea floor to create a large staging area to lower equipment and large tools to, otherwise they would sink down in the mud and be impossible to lift for use or to lift back to the surface. Essentially, we lay a parking lot on the ocean floor and lower several tools and even a scrap basket or two. Tools are assembled on land, some have to be engineered for a specific task, assembled, welded and loaded onto ships and sailed to the job site. Then they are loaded onto the construction ships with huge cranes.

Mud mats are lowered to the bottom and arranged as close as possible with ROV's so heavy gear can be lowered down for specific jobs.
Mud mats are lowered to the bottom and arranged as close as possible with ROV's so heavy gear can be lowered down for specific jobs.

Explaining Why...

Remember, I am out here and don't see the TV news or the newspaper, etc. I have no idea what you know and don't know. I am trying to illustrate what happened and why it is taking so long to stop it. If this is all repeat information, I am sorry, I have no idea. Besides, having been in the media myself, I know full well how they make stuff up along the way, it is also why I quit years ago.

For example, we were told that CNN reported we were trying to cut the well head with a chain saw. A chain saw? Really? A 21" steel pipe a mile below the water with a chain saw? Point made. Perhap's I will say something you don't know, or perhaps contradict something some newspaper made up along the way. Let's find out!

Basic Oil Rig Hook-Up

The riser coming up from the well head is a 21" diameter pipe. When the rig caught fire several boats were spraying water on it to put it out.
The riser coming up from the well head is a 21" diameter pipe. When the rig caught fire several boats were spraying water on it to put it out.

When the rig sank...

The oil platform sank because the fireboats filled it full of water. A floating drill rig is much like a large square boat, when you fill them with water they sink; just like a boat filled with water would sink. Did they sink it on purpose? I have heard yes and no. Personally, I have no idea. They may have sank it on purpose as the only means to put the fire out. 

We have had the sub down around the DWH rig to have a peek. It's pretty gloomy.

When the drill rig sank it pulled over the riser with it, bending and breaking it. The primary bend was at the bottom, but the leak was small at the bend above the well head. The major leak at the time was the far end of the riser pipe still attached to the bend. In order to stop the leak we first had to cut the riser into manageable-size pieces. A mere 40 feet of the riser pipe weighs 65,000 pounds. Each section had to be strapped up via robots, then connected to a crane, then cut back in sections, moved to a storage area, then cut again and again until we got back to the well head.

As we cut the sections back, the bend above the well head began to split open until it was now the major leak in the system, and the original leak was the small one. Regardless of the leak or its size, the riser had to be cut out of the way so we could get to the main pipe. This alone took many days to complete.


CNN says it's a chain saw....

"Here it is folks, the all new Stihl 5000. It will cut everything from logs to 30" steel pipe at the bottom of the sea. This model is available at Lowes and Home Depot!" The ROV is positioning for the cut.
"Here it is folks, the all new Stihl 5000. It will cut everything from logs to 30" steel pipe at the bottom of the sea. This model is available at Lowes and Home Depot!" The ROV is positioning for the cut.

The Diamond Wire Saw

The next step was to cut the pipe just above the main flange. We lowered a hydraulic diamond wire saw to cut the pipe and put in place with our ROV.

With the diamond wire in place, we begin cutting the pipe. Remember the majority of the oil (not pictured) is still coming out the far end of the pipe, or riser. Note the oil seeping out of the small breaks in the steel.
With the diamond wire in place, we begin cutting the pipe. Remember the majority of the oil (not pictured) is still coming out the far end of the pipe, or riser. Note the oil seeping out of the small breaks in the steel.

The diamond wire began cutting. It was working very well. Oil began spraying out of the cut made by the wire, engulfing the saw, but it was still cutting away. Suddenly, the saw stopped. The blade would not move one way or the other. It was a complete puzzle to everyone, the wire was stuck and it made no sense. Oil kept pouring from the cut as everyone involved tried to figure out what was wrong.

After several attempts to get the saw going again, the diamond wire finally broke.
A diamond wire costs $3500.00 and that doesn't include the saw.

Did you know oil can freeze?

Oil and gas was pouring out with such force and speed, the oil itself began to freeze around the saw. The saw was soon covered in a thick layer of frozen oil. It was clear another approach would have to be tried.

Look for the red lazer dot toward the bottom of this picture. It is pointing at ice crystals of crude oil.
Look for the red lazer dot toward the bottom of this picture. It is pointing at ice crystals of crude oil.
Here you can see the ice up-close. It is beginning to form into an ice-cycle.
Here you can see the ice up-close. It is beginning to form into an ice-cycle.

Next Update...

Next update I will show what we did next. In doing so we discovered what caused our diamond saw to stop and break and also prevented us from simply shutting off the well from the shut off valve right after the incident started!

Keep checking back - more great photos coming!

- Harlan

The Discovery Enterprise shortly after being struck by lightening around 9:30 am this morining, 6-15-2010.
The Discovery Enterprise shortly after being struck by lightening around 9:30 am this morining, 6-15-2010.

Drill Ship Struck By Lightening!

Fire Breaks Out! 6-15-2010

In a freak storm, lightening struck the Discovery Enterprise Drill Ship causing a fire. The Discovery Enterprise is the main ship working to stop the Deep Water Horizen oil leak. Around 9:30 AM lightening struck the ship starting a fire. Alarms sounded and the ship immediately shut down the flare boom while fire crews rushed to the blaze. All other crews reported to emergency muster stations for evacuation. Fortunately, the fire was put out in short order and the ship was deemed safe. Crews stayed on board. Few details are available at this time, however, the flare boom is back in operation and the vessel appears to have continued working.

Ships in the area assisting with the oil leak were on alert and prepared to leave so fire ships could have clear access. While largely inconsequential, for many the incident was a gloomy reminder of the fire that destroyed the Deep Water Horizon.

Some of the workers say, "this well is cursed."

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Photo above is a depiction of the lightening that witnesses describe to have seen hit the drill ship.
Photo above is a depiction of the lightening that witnesses describe to have seen hit the drill ship.
Even in the middle of this great tragedy, there is still a little beauty to behold.
Even in the middle of this great tragedy, there is still a little beauty to behold.

Continuous Updates to Come!

 Be sure to check back every now and then as I explain the machines, the process, and the obstacles we encounter trying to stop history's largest oil leak. I also have some very, very unbelieveable, upclose and personal pictures never seen anywhere that will be shown only here, on Hubpages!

 - Harlan Colt

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Comments 23 comments

Joni Douglas profile image

Joni Douglas 6 years ago

Wow, Harlan, sure appreciate the work everyone is doing down there. Thanks for the update and the photos.


saddlerider1 profile image

saddlerider1 6 years ago

Harlan what a report, first hand on the job reporting, you can't get any better than that. I am glad to hear of the safety features that you point out are so necessary before attempting to do any work down there. I sure hope as the rest of the world does that, this well can be tapped off. This catastrophe is going down in history as one of the worst. Looking forward to reading more of your reports as you can post them, you are a busy man, I can read that. My prayers are with you and your crews, good luck my friend and keep safe and God willing this well will be plugged.


Brie Hoffman profile image

Brie Hoffman 6 years ago from Manhattan

That was great, looking forward to the next one! I will pray for you.


Artin2010 profile image

Artin2010 6 years ago from Northwestern Florida, Gulfcoast

Hi Harlan, thank you for your service to the enviroment and for reporting from offshore. Yes, this is a major tradgedy, I would have to say. There is a massive effort going on to stop the underwater gusher as well as to clean up the spill. Many will suffer from this for years and years speaking of the coastal population and the wildlife and sea creatures. Work and pray about the situation. Wonder how long the clean up will last once the leak is stopped?


Harlan Colt profile image

Harlan Colt 6 years ago from the Rocky Mountains Author

Joni,

Thank you. We are all very concerned too. Everyday I see that well head boiling oil out of it, it just hurts in a way I can't describe. I really hope the environmental recovery is fast, but I also fear it is going to hurt a lot of people and families that depend on the industries that come from the Gulf too. People have no idea how big of a benefit these industries are to America's economy - and its not just the South. Most the professional's I work with are from all over the country - and the world.

- Harlan


Harlan Colt profile image

Harlan Colt 6 years ago from the Rocky Mountains Author

Saddlerider1,

Everytime I suit up I put on a fire retardant suit, safety glasses, gloves, helmet, steel toed boots, and sometimes an air mask. It is so hot down here too, you are soaking wet all day long. Then at times I have to wear a safety harness and a life jacket as well. You get so bundled up you can hardly move.

Thank you for the prayers, I don't know what they are telling you on the news, but from what I see down at that wellhead, we're going to need it. And its good to hear from you too, its been awhile.

- Harlan


Harlan Colt profile image

Harlan Colt 6 years ago from the Rocky Mountains Author

Hi Brie,

No hub is complete until Brie Hoffman gives it a peek!

Hope you are well, and thank you for the prayers.

- Harlan


katiem2 profile image

katiem2 6 years ago from I'm outta here

Harlan, Thanks for providing us with this fantastic information and even more Thank YOU for everything your doing. I will maintain the most positive thoughts of you and all others working there to be blessed with solutions that works in all areas of this tragedy. I feel better having a better and more real glimps into the reality of this spill. Peace and Blessings :)


Harlan Colt profile image

Harlan Colt 6 years ago from the Rocky Mountains Author

Thank you Katiem2 for the supportive words. Everyone out here feels like the whole world hates us right now because of the difficulty stopping this leak. When we finally got the main pipe cut and got a temporary cap on it - all hands on board cheered outloud, but it was only a step along a long road and we know that too. You can read the stress in people's faces, especially the higher-ups. There are still many obstacles to getting a permanent seal on the well head. I will be posting photos and explaining it as best I can. Some of the photo's are amazing and will show people what we see while we are working on it. Even though it is a tragic disaster, I was still trying to find the photographic angle and expression in taking the pictures. I can't wait to post them, but I only get a little time each day. We are so exhausted, but we have to keep going. I have no idea when I am coming home yet. I hope its in time for the 4th of July, and I hope this leak is sealed by then too. For me, that would be the perfect 4th of July - well that, a few cold ones, some fireworks and good company.

- Harlan


Granny's House profile image

Granny's House 6 years ago from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time

Harlan, There was a special on CNN last night. The reporters were trying to get some information on what was going on and how it was going and no one was aloud to talk them. The reporters said BP said that they would let the media know how it was going but the reporters can not get any information.


Harlan Colt profile image

Harlan Colt 6 years ago from the Rocky Mountains Author

Hi Granny,

I would guess that they don't want to tell CNN anything because they have such a bad reputation for mis-quoting the facts - they reported that we were trying to cut the pipe with a chain saw. A chain saw wont run under water, and a chain saw wont cut metal. If you want to know what is going on, come back to this hub. I am sitting right here over the well, you can't get much closer than that!

So, what is going on? We put a cap on the well and it is catching about 50% of the leak. The rest is going into the Gulf, but we have containment boats everywhere doing everything they can to catch what they can. I know its better than not at all, but I also know its not good enough. Beside us in the water are three oil rigs drilling relief wells that will help slow the leak so more work can be done to it. I am loosing hope that there is any real - stop it now solution. I do not believe this accident is BP's fault. It is their responsibility, but its not their fault - it was an accident. No one intended for this to happen and safe-guards were in place to prevent it - but it happened anyway, now we get to deal with it. I could explain more, but I am going to add it into the hub article above.

Thanks for reading my hub.

- Harlan


rebekahELLE profile image

rebekahELLE 6 years ago from Tampa Bay

thanks to saddlerider for posting this link on another hub in their comment space! what a fascinating account, and these photos are unbelievable. thank you so much for taking the time and the photos to show us, up close with this enormous tragic disaster. you very much are in our thought and prayers. are you employed by BP? just curious.

be well, Harlan.


jiberish profile image

jiberish 6 years ago from florida

Harlan, it's great to have first hand knowledge of what's really going on. I know that BP must be doing all it can, it must be frustrating. There are two sideds to every story, thank you for sharing this side.


Harlan Colt profile image

Harlan Colt 6 years ago from the Rocky Mountains Author

rebekahELLE,

Thank you for the thoughts and prayers. No, I am not an employee of BP, but we are all a team here. Everyone I have met from BP has been fabulous. They are professional people who care about this accident as much as anyone. I have heard some people are frustrated with BP in trying to work with them on this, but you have to stop and imagine how utterly overwhelming setting up such a large response to such a distaster.

I know the government and the politicians somehow want to tack their name on this for the spotlight - as if they can actually do something. I honestly believe the best thing the government can do is let the engineers and professionals who work at the bottom of the sea handle this. We have the tools, the machines and the resources right above the well, everything that can possibly be done, is being done and more.

Thank you so much for reading,

- Harlan


Harlan Colt profile image

Harlan Colt 6 years ago from the Rocky Mountains Author

jiberish,

Certianly, I am posting the simplified story, there are many details between the lines, but as consumers we want the nitty gritty. If I posted everything it would be the longest blog in the web! I do however, plan to post a slide show of all the good photo's when this blog is complete. I believe I will be on shore before this story ends, but I will do what I can until then.

Thank you for reading.

- Harlan


rebekahELLE profile image

rebekahELLE 6 years ago from Tampa Bay

thanks for such a quick response. I have shared this with my 'followers', also posted it on facebook and tweeted it!

sending all of you some good thoughts and energy. :]


Putz Ballard profile image

Putz Ballard 6 years ago

Sure is a mess, thanks for sharing this very insightful, I am sharing this on my Facebook page. We who are so far away sometimes do not realize the tragedy and trauma. Hope this thing gets capped off soon. Thanks for sharing.


ralwus 6 years ago

Thanks so much for this Harlan, I am well acquainted with these things on land and can only imagine what hell it is out there for you all on that water. Kudos to you all.


Harlan Colt profile image

Harlan Colt 6 years ago from the Rocky Mountains Author

rebekahELLE,

Thank you so much. I work long hours and its so nice to get off work and find posts like yours. Thank you for passing along the blog. I sure didn't expect anything like that. The responses are well received!

Thank you again,

- Harlan


Harlan Colt profile image

Harlan Colt 6 years ago from the Rocky Mountains Author

Hi Putz,

Everytime I see your picture I think of you singing that song on one of your posts. Thank you for sharing my blog on your Facebook, and thank you for the kind words. Honestly, everyday this tragedy continues I get more weary. I have been down there and I know what is still spilling into the ocean and at what rate. Are subs come up covered in oil and we have a HAZMAT team wash our equipment everytime we use it. Even still it drips onto the deck from the winch cables, onto the floor, onto your clothes, and this morning I had to throw out my coffee because it dripped into my coffee, I almost drank it but noticed it just in time.

We are supposed to uncap the well sometime this week and put on a new permanent cap on it that doesn't leak. That was the last I heard anyway. I hope we do it soon. Thanks for all your support my friend,

- Harlan


Harlan Colt profile image

Harlan Colt 6 years ago from the Rocky Mountains Author

Ralwus,

Thank you sir for reading my hub and thank you for the kind comments. It sounds like you know how rough it can be. Today I stood on the side of the ship and looked into the water, it had that rainbow oil sheen on it nearly everywhere you look. But we have days like that and other days the water is as clear as a bell. I don't know what to make of it.

- thanks again,

- Harlan


SilverGenes 6 years ago

Thank you for all you are doing. This hub is really important and I'm passing it on.


Harlan Colt profile image

Harlan Colt 6 years ago from the Rocky Mountains Author

SilverGenes,

Thank you for reading my report. I sure appreciate the support and the comment. Today has been my hardest day. Our sub broke down and we all scrambled on deck to fix it. After two days we are still working on it. I had hoped to add more today but I am just too tired and have decided to get some sleep early. Hopefully, I can add more tomorrow.

Thank you again,

Harlan

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