Now imagine doing that kind of job on an offshore drilling platform in the middle of the ocean! As we saw in the story of gasoline getting oil to the gas station is an involved process but getting the oil up from deep within the earth is quite the process too. The U.S. imports a large part of our oil from foreign sources (almost 50% in 2010) but we have a large amount of oil in the Gulf of Mexico. This is where offshore drilling platforms are found. In 2006, there were over 4,000 platforms in the gulf according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. An image helps that number hit home.
|The 4,000 platforms in the Gulf of Mexico in 2006.|
Basically, a vessel or platform positions itself about the location by GPS and then lowers a drill head on a long cable down to the ocean floor. The hole is lined with casing (metal piping) to reinforce it. Once the reservoir is reached then the oil is pumped up and to a holding tank or through a pipeline to shore.
The guys who are out there on the rigs work 2 weeks straight often with 12 hour shifts (they are paid pretty well though). Fortunately the platforms aren't just for business. They usually have a movie theater and gym. This article describes the rig life in more detail. Sleeping in tiny bunks and braving windy weather are just some of the downsides of the job.
The process to reach oil thousands of feet below the ocean isn't easy. It's amazing to me the technology involved to get the precious resource out. As with my brief story of gasoline, there is a lot I'm leaving out so this will fit into a blog post. Read this longer story of the complete oil drilling process over at HowStuffWorks for more information. If you think you can brave the waves, tiny room, and 12 hour days then kudos to you because I definitely couldn't do it!