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Jim Bradshaw: World War II had big impact on offshore work

World War II had a bad effect and then a good one on the offshore oil industry. The industry probably would have developed much earlier than it did if there had been no war, but the end of the war brought together men and machines and circumstances that sped it along once it got started.

Oil companies began looking at intriguing seismic data well before the United States entered the war.

Pure Oil built the first offshore platform a little more than two miles off the Cameron Parish coast before Americans went overseas. But the war brought a double whammy to the fledgling industry.

Pure got worried in 1942 when German submarines began prowling through the Gulf.

The subs sank more than 50 tankers carrying crude from Louisiana and Texas to Atlantic coast refineries, and Pure thought its little platform was a sitting duck for the U-boats.

The company plugged its wells and abandoned the platform.

The second whammy was that neither Pure nor anyone else could have built more offshore platforms if they’d wanted to, because the steel and other materials they needed were being used to build ships and tanks and machine guns,

The submarine toll on tankers did cause war planners to use some important resources to build two pipelines — dubbed “Big Inch” and “Little Inch” — from Texas to refineries in the Northeast.

Oil and gas were as important to the war effort as guns and bullets — which is why the Germans were shooting up our tankers.

Soldiers, sailors, and flyers needed the gasoline and aviation fuel and lubricants and synthetic rubber coming from those plants, and the refineries needed good Texas and Louisiana crude to make the stuff.

Tankers weren’t getting through, railroads were tied up hauling men and other goods, trucks ate up too much of the fuel they were supposed to be creating, so the 36-inch and 24-inch pipelines were the best solution to getting the oil to where it needed to be.

The next dilemma was in finding enough oil to do what had to be done.

Studies done in the early 1940s, when it began to appear that the United States might be drawn into the war, warned that the United States was not producing enough oil to keep bombers in the air, ships at sea, and family cars fueled up and with a good set of tires.

Inland rigs were drilling as fast as they could, but they were also hampered by shortages of materials, then so many men signed up to fight after Pearl Harbor that it was almost impossible to find good drilling crews.

Brave men and women and industrial might have got us through the war, and when it ended, the war that had been robbing the industry of what it needed created a situation that practically forced oil companies to take the leap into the Gulf.

Family cars began to roll off the assembly lines and needed gasoline; folks who had old cars wanted to fill their gas tanks again. Returning veterans provided more labor than the industry needed.

War surplus boats and engines and machines of all sorts made the venture affordable. Steel could be found.

Radios developed for wartime use made rig-to-shore communication simpler. On top of it all, the nation was ready to get back to building stuff, instead of blowing stuff up.

It was still an industry that had to be built from scratch — practically everything had to be built new or improvised from something old — but, all at once, there was incentive to start drilling in the Gulf for real.

It probably didn’t hurt anything that there was a compelling idea running through the oil patch that money could be made offshore, maybe lots of it.

A collection of Jim Bradshaw’s columns, Cajuns and Other Characters, is now available from Pelican Publishing. You can contact him at or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.


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