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Maritime Law is really very strict about the safety of the drilling rigs that work out in the oceans of the world. The Scottish North Sea is one of the most treacherous oceans in the world. Eighty foot waves are reality, spray on the rig floor is a common occurrence. Working in 100 mile per hour winds is possible by enclosing the rigs. Iron roughneck, power tongs, power slips, motion compensators, so much more than is to be found on the normal dessert rig. West Texas boys donít normally know much about the ocean. They teach you to pinch your butt cheeks together when you hit or the water will just come on it and you go to bottom. The bottom in this part of the ocean was 574 ft. If you ask one of the divers how deep they have been, the older guys just say ďto bottomĒ. Riding the diving bell to bottom was very tricky, we got away with a lot really stupid stuff for a long time but times changed. The sea seems to just swallow you up in its vastness, water as far as you can see in any direction. Living out here is really dangerous, there is a stand-by boat that theoretically could save your life if something really bad happened but down deep inside you know that nobody makes it. Itís 80 ft. to the water, your chances of surviving the fall are very slim and even if you do survive the fall, the hypothermia will kill you within just a couple of minutes, the water is very cold. If you were on fire, you are probably already dead by the time you hit the water.
When oil was discovered in the North Sea every well had to be tested to see just how much they would produce in order to see if the cost of producing the wells could be justified. Some of the wells would have as many as 5 production zones that had to be tested by Drill Stem Test or DST. We would test a zone then cement that zone off and move up the hole to the next. We would open the well up flowing through a choke and flaring the gas from a large flare boom that was hung over the side. There were some very large flares in the North Sea at that time in the early 70ís. Hamilton Brothers, BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Phillips were all finding very good oil.
While testing on the Odin Drill, when we opened up the well to the flare, a Russian submarine surfaced inside of our anchor buoys. This is against maritime law, big time. These guys would come out on deck and set up movie cameras to film the entire show while running their diesel motors recharging the subs batteries. This action chapped Queen Elizabeth, big-time. We were ordered to close the well in and wait on orders. A drilling rig like this cost +/- $125,000 per day, it ainít cheap.
The Royal Air Force sent the sub-chaser Nimrods out. The Nimrods are large airplanes with sub tracking gear built in. These guys would fly just above the water at about 500 MPH running right at the sub and just before they hit, they would pull up. After a couple of passes the sub rigged down the cameras and submerged. We got the all clear, after waiting a day before opening the well back up. Flaring the gas off was very spectacular and the Russians joined us again. Once again, we closed the well in, while waiting on orders. This dance continues on and off for the next week, creating an international incident that was in all of the British news papers. We had enough to worry about without have to worry if a Russian submarine was going to blow us out of the water.