Happy birthday ‘Mr. Charlie!’

The “Mr. Charlie” rig, lower left, on the Morgan City waterfront is turning 60 years old on Sunday.
Photo courtesy of International Petroleum Museum & Exposition

“Mr. Charlie” is shown in operation in the Gulf of Mexico.
Photo courtesy of International Petroleum Museum & Exposition

The rig “Mr. Charlie” is in the background of Virgil Allen, president of the International Petroleum Museum & Exposition.
(The Daily Review Photo by Crystal Thelepape)

Submitted by Virgil Allen International Petroleum Museum & Exposition president

In 1947, Kerr-McGee set up base in Morgan City to go offshore, out of sight of land, to drill the first successful offshore oil well, making Morgan City the birthplace of the offshore oil and gas industries.
Alden “Doc” Laborde went to work for Kerr-McGee in 1948 as their marine superintendent. It was here Doc came up with the idea of a movable, reusable, offshore drilling rig.
Doc left Kerr-McGee to pursue his idea and in early 1953 teamed with Murphy Oil Co. to form Ocean Drilling and Exploration Company, ODECO, and built the “Mr. Charlie,” the first movable offshore drilling rig.
Doc went on to develop the first designed-for-purpose offshore supply boat, “Ebb Tide,” and the first semi-submersible drilling rig, “Ocean Driller,” making him known as the “Father of the Offshore Oil and Gas Industries.”
The “Mr. Charlie” was turned over by Alexander Shipyard to ODECO on June 15, 1954. The rig went under contract to Shell Oil Company and drilled its first well in their new field in East Bay, near the mouth of the Mississippi River.
Despite skepticism from offshore industry professionals, “Mr. Charlie” performed up to expectations and went on to drill over 250 wells for every other major oil company operating in the Gulf, with a cumulative depth of 2.3 million feet.
His barge is approximately 220 feet long and 85 feet wide. Under the living quarters, pontoons extend the width to 136 feet. The barge is 14 feet deep, with a 4 foot skirt extending below its bottom on both port and starboard sides. The floor of the platform is 60 feet above the barge, supported by the massive legs that serve to connect the barge and platform. These legs also serve as conduit for connecting services such as electric, water and air lines, elevator access and other services needed to operate an independent facility, out of sight of land.
“Mr. Charlie” could accommodate a crew of 58. Once “Mr. Charlie” was on location, he was an independent island and nearly totally self-sufficient with room to store drinking water, food, and supplies for the crew. He generated his own electricity, disposed of his own waste, provided his own communication system, and contained enough fuel to accomplish these tasks. He also maintained supplies and equipment to perform his job of drilling a well. He also had to be prepared for any emergency with a complete fire-fighting system, blow out preventers, and medical supplies and equipment.
“Mr. Charlie” was capable of drilling wells in water depths up to 40 feet and had a prolific career lasting nearly four decades. He revolutionized the offshore oil industry in the Gulf and world-wide. He was retired in late 1986 when drilling activity headed into water deeper than his “feet.”
The offshore industry was born in Morgan City, and “Mr. Charlie” carried it into the Gulf of Mexico and shipped it around the globe. “Mr. Charlie” revolutionized the offshore oil industry and led to the technology currently being used around the world.
“Mr. Charlie” drilled his last well in 1986 and retired to the ODECO yard in Amelia.
In 1993 the International Petroleum Museum and Exposition Inc., a non-profit corporation, was formed to purchase the rig. The rig was moved to its present location on the east bank of the Atchafalaya River in Morgan City.
The “Mr. Charlie” is now serving as a tourist attraction. It is the only place in the world where the public can walk aboard an authentic offshore drilling rig. The rig also serves as a hands-on, live-aboard training facility used by companies such as Oceaneering International, Diamond Offshore Drilling, Jones County Junior College, and the federal government’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement to prepare people to work offshore. From time to time, it has even served as a movie set.
For the past 60 years the “Mr. Charlie” has led the offshore oil and gas industries, and through training and education of the public, he continues to lead the industry into the future.

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