Oil rigs dot the coastline along the Gulf of Mexico in Texas and Louisiana. Not knowing much about oil rigs or the oil industry in general, when we arrived in Galveston and learned of the Ocean Star Oil Rig Museum, it immediately became a must see attraction for us.
The Ocean Star is a retired jack up drilling rig which was built in 1969 at the Bethlehem shipyard in Beaumont, Texas.
While it was operational, the Ocean Star drilled about 200 wells, operating in water depths up to 175 feet. In 1995 when it was up for sale as scrap, the Offshore Energy Center purchased it. In 1997, it opened as a museum.
Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (6:00 p.m. in the summer), the museum is located on Pier 19, a block from the Strand Historic District. Admission to the museum is $10 for adults, $8.00 for seniors and military, $6.00 for youth ages 7 – 18 and free for children 6 and younger. A guided audio tour package is available for an additional $5, but we managed to find a coupon for a free audio tour.
After buying our tickets in the gift shop, we proceeded to the museum via an elevated walkway which not only provided us with awesome views of Pier 19 where working fishing and charter boats are docked, but also of the entire port of Galveston.
Once inside the museum, an interesting introductory film indoctrinated us to the offshore drilling industry overall. The film plays at the top and half of every hour in their theater.
When talking about oil, most of us know that oil is an essential ingredient in gasoline, jet and other fuels. But it also plays a major role in transportation – it is used to build roads, manufacture tires and is a key component in anti-freeze and brake fluids. It also plays an essential role in the production of everything from computers, cell phones, prescription medicines, eyeglasses, shampoos, lipstick, solvents, detergents and so much more (click here for a complete list).
With three floors of interactive displays, videos and models, the Ocean Star Museum educates visitors on how these hydrocarbons are formed and what it takes to extract them from the earth, covering everything from seismic technology to exploration to production. Videos and exhibits explain drilling, geology, seismic, well servicing and production.
The first level is dedicated to the search for oil through seismic exploration, a very complex and lengthy process. In seismic exploration, sound waves are bounced off underground rock formations producing detailed images of local geology to determine the location and size of possible oil and gas reservoirs.
What we found a little scary was the Billy Pugh personnel basket which is used to transport workers from a boat to the platform. A video shows a worker standing on a pitching boat, with only a few seconds to toss their bags into the basket before they had to jump on. To avoid falling out of the basket as they are hoisted 100 feet into the air, the workers must hold onto the outside of the basket. Yikes! Never realized that just getting on/off a rig would be so dangerous! Certainly not for the faint of heart!
Before heading up to the other two floors, despite the chill and the wind, we headed outside to the Pipe Deck.
Not only is this a storage area for drill pipe but it also had a mobile laboratory which is used for lowering instruments into the hole to log the rock formations. Here we learned about the Escape Pod which is a lifeboat that can hold 28 crew members and the purpose of a cementing unit, a blow out preventer, a wire line servicing unit, and a subsea Christmas Tree.
Back inside, on the second floor were models of the various types of modern drill rigs and graphics that explain the differing situations in which particular production drill rigs are used. Water depth is the primary factor for determining what type of rig is used.
Fixed platforms, semi-submersible platforms, drill ships, compliant towers, tension leg platforms and spar platforms to name a few. Who knew that there were so many different types of rigs!
The third level provides information on transportation, safety and life on a rig.Hard to believe that it has been 10 years since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the largest marine oil spill in history in the Gulf of Mexico, caused by an April 20, 2010 explosion approximately 41 miles off the coast of Louisiana. Thanks for the quick efforts of the offshore service vessel Damon B. Bankston, 115 crew members were rescued. Eleven crew members unfortunately were killed.
Did you know that the well drills can be “steered” to go in almost any direction? Technically, the oil industry considers itself as complex, if not more so, than rocket science and the technology involved with the space program. And there is a huge political and environmental aspect to the industry as well.
Also interesting was seeing where the workers eat, sleep and play. When the Ocean Star rig was operational, there were 49 crew members on board who worked 12 hour shifts and were generally on for 14 days, then off for 14 days. For every one rig worker, there are 5 to 10 support jobs on shore. Four meals were served a day, one every 6 hours so food was always available regardless of what shift you were working. One of the displays points out that feeding everyone in a modern cafeteria setting may “require the purchase and preparation of 1,600 pounds of meat and seafood, 250 pounds of potatoes, 60 pounds of tomatoes, 80 gallons of milk, and 35 pounds of coffee per week”. This article explains the tough but rewarding life of the crew members on a rig.
Also located on the 3rd floor is the Industry Pioneers Hall of Fame which honors those individuals and technologies that took the industry to sea. These individuals who distinguish themselves and become the character of the industry through their vision, drive, innovation and leadership. The only name we recognized was George H. W. Bush, founder of the Zapata Offshore Co.
From the third floor, there is access to a skyway which had views of the entire drill platform and the waterfront.
Having seen all that there was to see, it was time to leave the museum. What an educational and informative day! Now when we see an oil rig, we’ll have a true appreciation for all that is involved in the oil and gas production industry. Highly recommend a visit if you are in the Galveston area, it is well worth the very reasonable admission charge. Suggest devoting a full day to this attraction.
By the time we finished seeing everything in the museum, we were hungry so we walked over to the nearby Katie’s Seafood House. Unfortunately we were too late for lunch and it was too early for dinner.
But it was Happy Hour! So we sat in the lounge area and enjoyed an order of fish tacos and a Pizza Campechano, which is a 7″ pizza topped with creole sauce, crab, calamari, shrimp,and fish in a Greek olive oil poblano tomato relish with melted pepper jack cheese along with our adult beverages.
After a very enjoyable and very busy week long stay, it was time to bid farewell to Galveston and head to our next destination. More later…..