Despite the Deepwater Horizon oil rig's state-of-the-art equipment, drilling in the deep blue is still a roughneck's job – a combustible mix of big machines and highly flammable materials.
The Transocean Deepwater Horizon oil rig is one of the most advanced engineering feats in the world, having drilled deeper than any other waterborne platform. But when the massive fifth-generation rig exploded late Tuesday night, injuring 17 workers and leaving 11 still missing, the accident proved even the most modern deepwater platforms are not immune to an age-old danger of tapping the earth: what roughnecks call, simply, blowout.
As Coast Guard planes and helicopters resumed the search for survivors Thursday morning, rescued rig hands arriving in Kenner, La., said that everything happened very fast. The Houston Chronicle quoted an unidentified survivor as saying, “It blew out and we had like zero time from the time the alarm went. It was all in flames.”
The Deepwater Horizon is on the cusp of global oil exploration, which is venturing ever further out to sea and deeper into the earth's crust.
The rig is in essence a giant flexible drill bit that can poke and prod for deposits up to 32,000 feet deep. It is run by roughnecks, roustabouts, tool pushers, directional drillers, and mud men, all directed by a "company man," employed, in this case, by BP, which is leasing the rig from Geneva-based Transocean.
The semi-submersible rig had anchored 41 miles off Louisiana, completing a concrete casing for a well drilled to 18,000 feet in an area called the Macondo Prospect.