A Comprehensive Guide to Offshore Drilling for Oil: The Process, Safety Measures, and Legal Protections

March 28, 2023

Offshore oil drilling plays a significant role in global oil and natural gas supply by promoting self-reliance and energy independence. In fact, with offshore drilling, countries can now reduce their dependence on the national grid system and generate renewable energy.

Unfortunately, offshore oil drilling poses significant risks to workers, including the risk of fires and explosions, which can cause severe and life-threatening injuries. This makes it crucial to understand the offshore drilling process, safety measures, as well as legal protections to minimize these risks and protect your rights in case of an offshore accident.

In this article, we provide a detailed guide on offshore drilling and your legal protections as an offshore worker.

What is Offshore Drilling?

Offshore drilling is the process of drilling holes in the ocean seabed to extract petroleum and natural gas. This mechanical process allows companies to access oil deposits underneath the ocean floor that they use to produce energy. Offshore drilling dates back to the late 18th century when the American Merrimac Company drilled the first oil well in Trinidad in 1857.

In America, Edwin Drake drilled the first offshore oil well in Pennsylvania in 1859, causing the famous “Pennsylvania Oil Rush.” Today, offshore oil drilling is a multi-million dollar business in the US, accounting for 15% of the country’s total crude oil production.

Types of Offshore Drilling Platforms

There are also various types of drilling platforms, including:

  • Fixed platforms
  • Semi-submersible platforms
  • Compliant towers
  • Tension-leg platforms
  • Floating production systems
  • Spar platforms

Offshore Drilling Vs. Onshore Drilling

The main difference between offshore and onshore drilling is that offshore drilling releases resources from beneath the ocean’s seabed, while onshore drilling releases them from beneath the earth’s surface. Onshore drilling also tends to cost far less than offshore drilling due to the complex nature of offshore sites. For instance, when setting up an offshore site, petroleum companies must build anchoring support to link the drilling platform to the ocean’s seabed. This ensures the platform doesn’t float away and maintains position throughout the drilling process.

While offshore site rigs require anchoring, onshore site rigs can support themselves and are relatively simple. Another key difference is in the working conditions. Offshore workers must live on offshore drilling rigs for weeks and even months, while onshore workers can live in camps or in nearby towns in hotels.

The Offshore Drilling Process

Offshore drilling for oil - Large ship delivering essential oil drilling equipment.
Setting up essential components and equipment for the oil drilling operations.

The offshore drilling process involves three key steps:

1. Site Selection and Evaluation

The first step of offshore oil drilling is to evaluate and locate an oil reservoir. Companies conduct seismic surveys to investigate underground rock properties and rock patterns. Once an oil reservoir is located, petroleum companies carry out environmental impact assessments to determine the potential effects of the drilling process in that region. This way, they can take necessary measures to avoid or minimize these effects.

2. Drilling and Extraction

After site selection and evaluation, a drilling platform is built on the offshore site location. Oil companies set up drilling rigs as well as their components on this platform and anchor it to the ocean’s seabed to ensure it maintains its position. Once everything is set up and secure, the drilling process begins.

First, they use a mobile drilling unit to create a well 100 meters deep on the ocean’s seabed. The process is followed by drilling to deeper depths until the desired depth is achieved. Throughout the drilling, casings are added to create a unit for the oil to flow through during extraction. A wellhead or guide base is set up above the casing unit on the sea floor, allowing oil to flow through and up to the receiving unit.

Oil companies also use various drilling techniques, including extended reach, horizontal, and multilateral.

3. Production and Transportation of Oil

Most offshore drilling platforms contain full production facilities to separate the mixture of crude oil, water, gas, and sediments extracted from the well. The separated oil is also treated and refined before being transported from the offshore site using shuttle tankers and pipelines.

Safety Measures and Environmental Considerations

Two offshore oil workers wearing protective equipment talking to each other.
Ensuring the safety of offshore workers.

Offshore drilling also poses significant environmental and worker risks, including water/air pollution and explosion accidents. To minimize these risks and ensure safety, OSHA has set industry rules, standards, and regulations that govern offshore drilling and the maritime industry. These industry standards and regulations also aim to minimize the environmental impact of offshore drilling and ensure the safety of offshore workers. One industry regulation is that oil companies are required to have safety management systems in place for offshore drilling operations.

Common Safety Hazards and Prevention Methods

Some of the common safety hazards in offshore drilling operations include:

  • Explosions and fires
  • Equipment failure
  • Dropped objects
  • Human error

However, oil companies and offshore workers can prevent these hazards by:

  • Wearing and using PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)
  • Inspecting equipment regularly for defects and damage
  • Conducting employee safety training and awareness programs
  • Using equipment for the intended purpose only
  • Reporting hazards and unsafe practices

The Impact of Offshore Drilling on the Environment

Offshore drilling operations release toxic chemicals and gas into the water and atmosphere, destroying marine life and ecosystems. Oil spills are also common with offshore drilling, and they pollute water and the environment. The exploration, production, and transportation of oil release air pollutants as well as other greenhouse gases, increasing global warming.

This increases the need for pollution control measures and the decommissioning and restoration of drilling sites to sustain the environment.

Legal Protections for Offshore Workers

1. Maritime Law

The maritime and offshore injury law governs the injuries, contracts, torts, or any offense that occurs on, in, or near a body of navigable water. These laws also help clear up disputes and protect the rights of people working offshore while ensuring organizations behave correctly.

2. Jones Act

If you work at sea and become injured, the Jones Act is the most relevant to you. The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 set forth this law, which governs the shipment of goods in the United States. The law ensures your employer takes responsibility for any injuries you sustain at sea due to negligence while on the job.

3. The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA)

This federal worker’s compensation program covers accidents and injuries experienced by workers involved in loading, unloading, decommissioning, or repairing a ship.

4. The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA)

The OCSLA act protects natural resources, helps injured maritime workers, as well as regulates oil and gas exploration.

Importance of Legal Representation for Injured Offshore Workers

If you have been injured while working offshore on a drilling platform, it’s wise to get legal representation from an experienced offshore injury lawyer. An offshore injury lawyer is well-versed in maritime laws and can help you determine which law applies to your situation. They can also protect your rights and ensure your employer takes full legal responsibility, so you receive the compensation you deserve. In fact, offshore injury lawyers have the resources and connections to build your case and protect your interests properly.

Case Studies: Offshore Drilling Accidents and Their Legal Implications

Every year, offshore workers are killed or injured in rig accidents. The Piper Alpha disaster is a clear example of how hazardous offshore drilling can be. The accident, which killed 167 people, remains one of the worst incidents in the maritime industry.

Another popular industrial disaster was the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that occurred in 2010. This spill killed 11 people and caused severe environmental damage that is still evident today.

Other notable accidents include the Exxon Valdez oil spill as well as the Bhopal Disaster.

Get Help

If injured offshore, get in touch with a Houston offshore injury lawyer immediately to get compensation for your physical and psychological injuries. Here at Morrow & Shepherd, our offshore accident attorneys handle serious offshore injury cases in Texas, Louisiana, and New Mexico. We’ve helped many injured maritime workers receive the compensation they deserve. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation, and confidential discussion of your case. We’ll evaluate your rights and potential compensation as well as provide expert guidance and support throughout the legal process.

Get a Free Case Review by Calling Morrow & Sheppard Now.

We’re available 24/7.

  1. Home
  2. |
  3. Oilfield Injuries
  4. |
  5. A Comprehensive Guide to Offshore...
Go to Top