Puneet Varma (Editor)

Oil platform

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
Oil platform

An oil platform, offshore platform, or (colloquially) oil rig is a large structure with facilities to drill wells (optionally), to extract and process oil and natural gas, or to temporarily store product until it can be brought to shore for refining and marketing. In many cases, the platform contains facilities to house the workforce as well.


Depending on the circumstances, the platform may be fixed to the ocean floor, may consist of an artificial island, or may float. Remote subsea wells may also be connected to a platform by flow lines and by umbilical connections. These sub-sea solutions may consist of one or more subsea wells, or of one or more manifold centres for multiple wells.


Around 1891, the first submerged oil wells were drilled from platforms built on piles in the fresh waters of the Grand Lake St. Marys (a.k.a. Mercer County Reservoir) in Ohio. The wide but shallow reservoir was built from 1837 to 1845 to provide water to the Miami and Erie Canal.

Around 1896, the first submerged oil wells in salt water were drilled in the portion of the Summerland field extending under the Santa Barbara Channel in California. The wells were drilled from piers extending from land out into the channel.

Other notable early submerged drilling activities occurred on the Canadian side of Lake Erie since 1913 and Caddo Lake in Louisiana in the 1910s. Shortly thereafter, wells were drilled in tidal zones along the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana. The Goose Creek field near Baytown, Texas is one such example. In the 1920s, drilling was done from concrete platforms in Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela.

The oldest offshore well recorded in Infield's offshore database is the Bibi Eibat well which came on stream in 1923 in Azerbaijan. Landfill was used to raise shallow portions of the Caspian Sea.

In the early 1930s, the Texas Company developed the first mobile steel barges for drilling in the brackish coastal areas of the gulf.

In 1937, Pure Oil Company (now part of Chevron Corporation) and its partner Superior Oil Company (now part of ExxonMobil Corporation) used a fixed platform to develop a field in 14 feet (4.3 m) of water, one mile (1.6 km) offshore of Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana.

In 1946, Magnolia Petroleum Company (now part of ExxonMobil) erected a drilling platform in 18 ft (5.5 m) of water, 18 miles off the coast of St. Mary Parish, Louisiana.

In early 1947, Superior Oil erected a drilling/production platform in 20 ft (6.1 m) of water some 18 miles off Vermilion Parish, Louisiana. But it was Kerr-McGee Oil Industries (now Anadarko Petroleum Corporation), as operator for partners Phillips Petroleum (ConocoPhillips) and Stanolind Oil & Gas (BP), that completed its historic Ship Shoal Block 32 well in October 1947, months before Superior actually drilled a discovery from their Vermilion platform farther offshore. In any case, that made Kerr-McGee's well the first oil discovery drilled out of sight of land.

The British Maunsell Forts constructed during World War II are considered the direct predecessors of modern offshore platforms. Having been pre-constructed in a very short time, they were then floated to their location and placed on the shallow bottom of the Thames and the Mersey estuary.


Larger lake- and sea-based offshore platforms and drilling rig for oil.

Fixed platforms

These platforms are built on concrete or steel legs, or both, anchored directly onto the seabed, supporting a deck with space for drilling rigs, production facilities and crew quarters. Such platforms are, by virtue of their immobility, designed for very long term use (for instance the Hibernia platform). Various types of structure are used: steel jacket, concrete caisson, floating steel, and even floating concrete. Steel jackets are structural sections made of tubular steel members, and are usually piled into the seabed. To see more details regarding Design, construction and installation of such platforms refer to: and.

Concrete caisson structures, pioneered by the Condeep concept, often have in-built oil storage in tanks below the sea surface and these tanks were often used as a flotation capability, allowing them to be built close to shore (Norwegian fjords and Scottish firths are popular because they are sheltered and deep enough) and then floated to their final position where they are sunk to the seabed. Fixed platforms are economically feasible for installation in water depths up to about 520 m (1,710 ft).

Compliant towers

These platforms consist of slender, flexible towers and a pile foundation supporting a conventional deck for drilling and production operations. Compliant towers are designed to sustain significant lateral deflections and forces, and are typically used in water depths ranging from 370 to 910 metres (1,210 to 2,990 ft).

Semi-submersible platform

These platforms have hulls (columns and pontoons) of sufficient buoyancy to cause the structure to float, but of weight sufficient to keep the structure upright. Semi-submersible platforms can be moved from place to place and can be ballasted up or down by altering the amount of flooding in buoyancy tanks. They are generally anchored by combinations of chain, wire rope or polyester rope, or both, during drilling and/or production operations, though they can also be kept in place by the use of dynamic positioning. Semi-submersibles can be used in water depths from 60 to 3,000 metres (200 to 10,000 ft).

Jack-up drilling rigs

Jack-up Mobile Drilling Units (or jack-ups), as the name suggests, are rigs that can be jacked up above the sea using legs that can be lowered, much like jacks. These MODUs (Mobile Offshore Drilling Units) are typically used in water depths up to 120 metres (390 ft), although some designs can go to 170 m (560 ft) depth. They are designed to move from place to place, and then anchor themselves by deploying their legs to the ocean bottom using a rack and pinion gear system on each leg.


A drillship is a maritime vessel that has been fitted with drilling apparatus. It is most often used for exploratory drilling of new oil or gas wells in deep water but can also be used for scientific drilling. Early versions were built on a modified tanker hull, but purpose-built designs are used today. Most drillships are outfitted with a dynamic positioning system to maintain position over the well. They can drill in water depths up to 3,700 m (12,100 ft).

Floating production systems

The main types of floating production systems are FPSO (floating production, storage, and offloading system). FPSOs consist of large monohull structures, generally (but not always) shipshaped, equipped with processing facilities. These platforms are moored to a location for extended periods, and do not actually drill for oil or gas. Some variants of these applications, called FSO (floating storage and offloading system) or FSU (floating storage unit), are used exclusively for storage purposes, and host very little process equipment. This is one of the best sources for having floating production.

The world's first floating liquefied natural gas (FLNG) facility is currently under development. See the section on particularly large examples below.

Tension-leg platform

TLPs are floating platforms tethered to the seabed in a manner that eliminates most vertical movement of the structure. TLPs are used in water depths up to about 2,000 meters (6,600 feet). The "conventional" TLP is a 4-column design which looks similar to a semisubmersible. Proprietary versions include the Seastar and MOSES mini TLPs; they are relatively low cost, used in water depths between 180 and 1,300 metres (590 and 4,270 ft). Mini TLPs can also be used as utility, satellite or early production platforms for larger deepwater discoveries.

Gravity-based structure

A GBS can either be steel or concrete and is usually anchored directly onto the seabed. Steel GBS are predominantly used when there is no or limited availability of crane barges to install a conventional fixed offshore platform, for example in the Caspian Sea. There are several steel GBS in the world today (e.g. offshore Turkmenistan Waters (Caspian Sea) and offshore New Zealand). Steel GBS do not usually provide hydrocarbon storage capability. It is mainly installed by pulling it off the yard, by either wet-tow or/and dry-tow, and self-installing by controlled ballasting of the compartments with sea water. To position the GBS during installation, the GBS may be connected to either a transportation barge or any other barge (provided it is large enough to support the GBS) using strand jacks. The jacks shall be released gradually whilst the GBS is ballasted to ensure that the GBS does not sway too much from target location.

Spar platforms

Spars are moored to the seabed like TLPs, but whereas a TLP has vertical tension tethers, a spar has more conventional mooring lines. Spars have to-date been designed in three configurations: the "conventional" one-piece cylindrical hull; the "truss spar", in which the midsection is composed of truss elements connecting the upper buoyant hull (called a hard tank) with the bottom soft tank containing permanent ballast; and the "cell spar", which is built from multiple vertical cylinders. The spar has more inherent stability than a TLP since it has a large counterweight at the bottom and does not depend on the mooring to hold it upright. It also has the ability, by adjusting the mooring line tensions (using chain-jacks attached to the mooring lines), to move horizontally and to position itself over wells at some distance from the main platform location. The first production spar was Kerr-McGee's Neptune, anchored in 590 m (1,940 ft) in the Gulf of Mexico; however, spars (such as Brent Spar) were previously used as FSOs.

Eni's Devil's Tower located in 1,710 m (5,610 ft) of water in the Gulf of Mexico, was the world's deepest spar until 2010. The world's deepest platform is currently the Perdido spar in the Gulf of Mexico, floating in 2,438 metres of water. It is operated by Royal Dutch Shell and was built at a cost of $3 billion.

The first truss spars were Kerr-McGee's Boomvang and Nansen. The first (and only) cell spar is Kerr-McGee's Red Hawk.

Normally unmanned installations (NUI)

These installations, sometimes called toadstools, are small platforms, consisting of little more than a well bay, helipad and emergency shelter. They are designed to be operated remotely under normal conditions, only to be visited occasionally for routine maintenance or well work.

Conductor support systems

These installations, also known as satellite platforms, are small unmanned platforms consisting of little more than a well bay and a small process plant. They are designed to operate in conjunction with a static production platform which is connected to the platform by flow lines or by umbilical cable, or both.

Particularly large examples

The Petronius Platform is a compliant tower in the Gulf of Mexico modeled after the Hess Baldpate platform, which stands 2,000 feet (610 m) above the ocean floor. It is one of the world's tallest structures.

The Hibernia platform in Canada is the world's largest (in terms of weight) offshore platform, located on the Jeanne D'Arc Basin, in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Newfoundland. This gravity base structure (GBS), which sits on the ocean floor, is 111 metres (364 ft) high and has storage capacity for 1.3 million barrels (210,000 m3) of crude oil in its 85-metre (279 ft) high caisson. The platform acts as a small concrete island with serrated outer edges designed to withstand the impact of an iceberg. The GBS contains production storage tanks and the remainder of the void space is filled with ballast with the entire structure weighing in at 1.2 million tons.

Royal Dutch Shell is currently developing the first Floating Liquefied Natural Gas (FLNG) facility, which will be situated approximately 200 km off the coast of Western Australia and is due for completion around 2017. When finished, it will be the largest floating offshore facility. It is expected to be approximately 488m long and 74m wide with displacement of around 600,000t when fully ballasted.

Maintenance and supply

A typical oil production platform is self-sufficient in energy and water needs, housing electrical generation, water desalinators and all of the equipment necessary to process oil and gas such that it can be either delivered directly onshore by pipeline or to a floating platform or tanker loading facility, or both. Elements in the oil/gas production process include wellhead, production manifold, production separator, glycol process to dry gas, gas compressors, water injection pumps, oil/gas export metering and main oil line pumps.

Larger platforms assisted by smaller ESVs (emergency support vessels) like the British Iolair that are summoned when something has gone wrong, e.g. when a search and rescue operation is required. During normal operations, PSVs (platform supply vessels) keep the platforms provisioned and supplied, and AHTS vessels can also supply them, as well as tow them to location and serve as standby rescue and firefighting vessels.

Essential personnel

Not all of the following personnel are present on every platform. On smaller platforms, one worker can perform a number of different jobs. The following also are not names officially recognized in the industry:

  • OIM (offshore installation manager) who is the ultimate authority during his/her shift and makes the essential decisions regarding the operation of the platform;
  • operations team leader (OTL);
  • offshore operations engineer (OOE) who is the senior technical authority on the platform;
  • PSTL or operations coordinator for managing crew changes;
  • dynamic positioning operator, navigation, ship or vessel maneuvering (MODU), station keeping, fire and gas systems operations in the event of incident;
  • automation systems specialist, to configure, maintain and troubleshoot the process control systems (PCS), process safety systems, emergency support systems and vessel management systems;
  • second mate to meet manning requirements of flag state, operates fast rescue craft, cargo operations, fire team leader;
  • third mate to meet manning requirements of flag state, operate fast rescue craft, cargo operations, fire team leader;
  • ballast control operator to operate fire and gas systems;
  • crane operators to operate the cranes for lifting cargo around the platform and between boats;
  • scaffolders to rig up scaffolding for when it is required for workers to work at height;
  • coxswains to maintain the lifeboats and manning them if necessary;
  • control room operators, especially FPSO or production platforms;
  • catering crew, including people tasked with performing essential functions such as cooking, laundry and cleaning the accommodation;
  • production techs to run the production plant;
  • helicopter pilot(s) living on some platforms that have a helicopter based offshore and transporting workers to other platforms or to shore on crew changes;
  • maintenance technicians (instrument, electrical or mechanical).
  • Fully qualified medic.
  • Radio operator to operate all radio communications.
  • Store Keeper, keeping the inventory well supplied
  • Incidental personnel

    Drill crew will be on board if the installation is performing drilling operations. A drill crew will normally comprise:

  • Toolpusher
  • Driller
  • Roughnecks
  • Roustabouts
  • Company man
  • Mud engineer
  • Motorman
  • Derrickhand
  • Geologist
  • Welders and Welder Helpers
  • Well services crew will be on board for well work. The crew will normally comprise:

  • Well services supervisor
  • Wireline or coiled tubing operators
  • Pump operator
  • Pump hanger and ranger
  • Risks

    The nature of their operation—extraction of volatile substances sometimes under extreme pressure in a hostile environment—means risk; accidents and tragedies occur regularly. The U.S. Minerals Management Service reported 69 offshore deaths, 1,349 injuries, and 858 fires and explosions on offshore rigs in the Gulf of Mexico from 2001 to 2010. On July 6, 1988, 167 people died when Occidental Petroleum's Piper Alpha offshore production platform, on the Piper field in the UK sector of the North Sea, exploded after a gas leak. The resulting investigation conducted by Lord Cullen and publicized in the first Cullen Report was highly critical of a number of areas, including, but not limited to, management within the company, the design of the structure, and the Permit to Work System. The report was commissioned in 1988, and was delivered November 1990. The accident greatly accelerated the practice of providing living accommodations on separate platforms, away from those used for extraction.

    The offshore can be in itself a hazardous environment. In March 1980, the 'flotel' (floating hotel) platform Alexander L. Kielland capsized in a storm in the North Sea with the loss of 123 lives.

    In 2001, Petrobras 36 in Brazil exploded and sank five days later, killing 11 people.

    Given the number of grievances and conspiracy theories that involve the oil business, and the importance of gas/oil platforms to the economy, platforms in the United States are believed to be potential terrorist targets. Agencies and military units responsible for maritime counter-terrorism in the US (Coast Guard, Navy SEALs, Marine Recon) often train for platform raids.

    On April 21, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon platform, 52 miles off-shore of Venice, Louisiana, (property of Transocean and leased to BP) exploded, killing 11 people, and sank two days later. The resulting undersea gusher, conservatively estimated to exceed 20 million US gallons (76,000 m3) as of early June, 2010, became the worst oil spill in US history, eclipsing the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

    Ecological effects

    In British waters, the cost of removing all platform rig structures entirely was estimated in 2013 at £30 billion.

    Aquatic organisms invariably attach themselves to the undersea portions of oil platforms, turning them into artificial reefs. In the Gulf of Mexico and offshore California, the waters around oil platforms are popular destinations for sports and commercial fishermen, because of the greater numbers of fish near the platforms. The United States and Brunei have active Rigs-to-Reefs programs, in which former oil platforms are left in the sea, either in place or towed to new locations, as permanent artificial reefs. In the US Gulf of Mexico, as of September 2012, 420 former oil platforms, about 10 percent of decommissioned platforms, have been converted to permanent reefs.

    On the US Pacific coast, marine biologist Milton Love has proposed that oil platforms off California be retained as artificial reefs, instead of being dismantled (at great cost), because he has found them to be havens for many of the species of fish which are otherwise declining in the region, in the course of 11 years of research. Love is funded mainly by government agencies, but also in small part by the California Artificial Reef Enhancement Program. Divers have been used to assess the fish populations surrounding the platforms.

    Deepest oil platforms

    The world's deepest oil platform is the floating Perdido, which is a spar platform in the Gulf of Mexico in a water depth of 2,438 metres (7,999 ft).

    Non-floating compliant towers and fixed platforms, by water depth:

  • Petronius Platform, 535 m (1,755 ft)
  • Baldpate Platform, 502 m (1,647 ft)
  • Troll A Platform, 472 m (1,549 ft)
  • Bullwinkle Platform, 413 m (1,355 ft)
  • Pompano Platform, 393 m (1,289 ft)
  • Benguela-Belize Lobito-Tomboco Platform, 390 m (1,280 ft)
  • Gulfaks C Platform, 380 m (1,250 ft)
  • Tombua Landana Platform, 366 m (1,201 ft)
  • Harmony Platform, 366 m (1,201 ft)
  • References

    Oil platform Wikipedia