November, 2012. Morgan City, Louisiana. Walking All Over Mr. Charlie

Posted on December 4, 2012


plate2Louisiana’s license plates bear the inscription, Sportsman’s Paradise, and it certainly is.

However, man’s needs  – and wants – are seldom compatible with the needs of Mother Nature, and nowhere except along the Gulf of Mexico is this more evident.

From an economic standpoint, Big Oil Paradise might be a more accurate license plate tagline. According to 2012 figures, the state ranks number 4 in the nation in the production of natural gas, and number 5 in the production of crude oil.

Large and small industries scattered through lower Louisiana are all busy providing the parts and pieces and services required by both on-shore and off-shore oil and natural gas exploration, and trailer parks are packed with transient workers eager for the good salaries these jobs provide.

But you can’t fool Mother Nature.

According to Louisiana State University, the state is losing its coastal wetlands at a rate of the area of one football field every 38 minutes.  This vanishing wetland ecosystem is the very reason Louisiana IS a sportsman’s paradise.

It’s pretty clear to most that offshore drilling is at least partly to blame – but Big Oil seems to be here to stay, so we wanted to learn at bit about the offshore drilling industry.

Mr. Charlie (2)Lucky for us, Morgan City offered just that opportunity thanks to Mr. Charlie, a decommissioned oil drilling platform anchored on the bank of Berwick Bay near downtown.  The rig is now used for training potential offshore workers and offers tours for the public twice a day.

Designed by Alden “Doc” Laborde, this was the first fully transportable, submersible and self-sufficient offshore drilling rig. Of course, no one except Mr. Laborde thought it would work.

However, the owner of Murphy Oil Co., a small independent company out of El Dorado, Arkansas, listened to Doc’s idea for a transportable rig and liked the idea enough to invest half a million dollars to build it. Once completed, he christened it the Mr. Charlie in honor of his father.

Mr. Charlie performed just as Doc expected, drilling more than 200 oil and gas wells for every major oil company operating in the Gulf between 1954 and 1986.

Mr. Charlie could accommodate a crew of 58. The rig was an independent island and nearly totally self-sufficient with room to store drinking water, food, and supplies for the crew.

Mr. Charlie generated his own electricity, disposed of his own waste, provided his own communication system, and maintained supplies and equipment to perform the job of drilling a well. The rig contained a complete firefighting system, blow out preventers, and medical supplies and equipment.

By the mid-1980s, offshore drilling activity had moved beyond Mr. Charlie’s 40 foot depth limit, and the rig was retired. An effort to preserve Mr. Charlie was led by Morgan City oilmen and former workers.

Mr. Charlie revolutionized the offshore oil industry and lead to the technology currently being used around the world.

He now continues his work with a new role, teaching others about an industry that changed the world and challenges Mother Nature –  the offshore oil industry.DSCN0750