If you drive a car, ride a bus or plane, use an elevator, or have typed on a keyboard to get to this blog, then you probably have taken all those things for granted. That’s the way of today’s America–we have more than any civilization in history and yet we take for granted–and sometimes seem to punish–those who give us the wherewithal for all this bounty.
You realize how poorly we understand how our energy got to us when you a read a story about today’s exploration for oil and natural gas at the bottom of the oceans.
Reporters Russell Gold and Ana Campoy brilliantly captured this world of oil and gas exploration that most of us never see in an article recently in the Wall Street Journal and in other newspapers. I’m including a link to one of the articles. It profiles The Independence Hub, floating in the deepest water of any offshore platform. It will pull up a billion cubic feet of natural gas every day! This one platform will produce enough energy to heat nearly 5 million U.S. homes.
The reporters want to tell us how the biggest rigs are used less as smaller reservoirs of gas and aging fields can best be tapped by underwater well heads. Moreover, by having the wellhead gear on the seafloor, it’s out of the way of hurricanes.
Unfortunately the link above does not include the graphics and map that accompanied the WSJ piece on July 26. For me, they were as interesting as the analysis that went with it. Here’s what was in the graphics–
The map shows the Gulf of Mexico overlaid with a grid that shows where some of the most interesting oil and gas drilling it taking place, tiny specks not far from the delta of the Mississippi River. The illustration show one of the floating rigs that operates there–who knew these gargantuan steel structures could float?!!–and the spaghetti of umbilical cords that carry orders, chemicals and electricity down two miles to the well heads on the sea floor. Here are the steps shown in this very effective drawing by Erik Brynildsen:
Step 1: The Platform. Operators monitor production and send orders to the wellhead. If you’ve been on an offshore platform, you know this is much bigger than a lego block.
Step 2: 125 miles of “umbilicals” carry orders, electricity and chemicals down to wellheads. Computers monitor all of this activity and ten different fields feed into the Independence Hub.
Step 3: Modular wellheads or “trees” regulate flow and pressure with valves and chemicals injected into the well. How do they get these well heads atop the pipelines when it is two miles down from the ocean’s surface? I have trouble getting a horseshoe on a metal pole from twenty feet. I can’t imagine the engineering skill to not only match up the wellheads, let alone the drilling that goes below the sea floor to the deposits of oil and gas. Could you do this?
Step 4: Flow Lines. They send production from wells through centralized manifolds and up to the platform.
Step 5: It handles separation of gas from water, sand, etc. brought up from the sea bed. In other words, natural gas does not just flow up ready to get burned in your oven. It’s got to be transformed, clean up and sent onward to customers like you and me.
Step 6: The gas is sent on to the mainland via pipeline, also running along the bottom of the seabed.
Who takes all this for granted? Most of us who have never seen it. And then there’s those members of Congress who not only take all this for granted, but they want to penalize those companies that have the brains and bucks to get all this done.
By the way, if you wondered why I mentioned the keyboard in the beginning, it is because it is made from plastics and of course they are made from chemicals that originate from natural gas feedstocks. There’s another story there, and if you want to know how we are driving U.S. manufacturing abroad because of our short-sighted natural gas policies, read The Manufacturing Institute’s newest report on that topic–The Hidden Backbone of U.S. Manufacturing– by clicking here.
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