Are Jack-up Rigs Safe?
Jack-up rigs, the most commonly used mobile rigs today, are a particular kind of oil rig, which can be moved into place and held there via legs that are extended to the sea floor. They are employed at sea level depths ranging from 50 to 300 feet deep. As of the end of 2013, there are over 500 jack-up rigs being used across the U.S. There are two main types of jack-up rigs in use: mobile offshore drilling units (MODU) and turbine installation vessels, used to install offshore wind turbines.
The complex and delicate machinery used to keep jack up rigs stable must be closely monitored and maintained to prevent disasters. If the rig is not fully stabilized, it may shift on the water and cause equipment to fall on its surface, severely injuring workers. In some cases, rigs have collapsed or exploded leading to catastrophic disasters.
In July of 2013, a jack up rig off the coast of Louisiana caught fire after the rig's blowout preventer failed to keep gas from building up. Fortunately, all crewmembers were safely evacuated, but the collapse of the rig led to further examination of safety procedures.
Advances in the machinery used to keep the rig stable include several systems for controlling the platform's leg movements, including electronic control via motors with soft starters, variable speed drives (VSDs), and hydraulic-operated lifts. Many manufacturers are pushing VSDs as the safest and most efficient way to control the oil platform's movements, as they provide more precise measurements and control.
The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations lists guidelines for the movements and installation of jack up rigs. Many other countries have followed suit in regulating these rigs, some even placing more stringent guidelines on the operation of the platforms. The stricter guidelines can include a requirement that all production and wells must be stopped unless the platform is fully stabilized on the sea floor.
Despite troubling events that call into question the safety of jack up rigs, continuous advancements in technology are helping to make them more stable. As with any oil rig, constant vigilance and maintenance are needed to ensure a safe rig, and any lapse in safety measures could lead to a disaster.