We knew it was going to be a good day when a Barred Owl flew across our path early in the morning. We paused for a brief visual exchange, and went our separate ways.
On the way to Palmetto State Park, we noticed a parking lot with over 200 pick up trucks and a line of helicopters parked nearby. We guessed correctly that this was where workers catch a ride to their oilrig stations.
We asked if we could come in to take photos and, to our surprise and delight, the manager gave us a personal escort, Carol, who drove us around the facility.
As we were heading back, we met one of the pilots, Troy, who was waiting for the fog to lift. These helicopters don’t fly until they have 3 miles of visibility and a 500-foot ceiling when they leave the mainland. Since they get paid by the minute once the engines start, their clients don’t want them to be turned back because of weather. Troy let us climb into the chopper and patiently answered all of our questions. (We’ve since thought of a dozen more we wished we had asked!)
It turns out that it’s the Mississippi River that’s the culprit for the Gulf’s brown water, at least around here. This mighty river picks up silt as it wends its way for 2500 miles through the middle of our country, dumping it into the Gulf just south of New Orleans. (They don’t call it the Big Muddy for nothing!) Troy says that about 140 miles out, the shelf drops and the Gulf becomes very deep and very blue.
There are about 2800 production platforms in the Gulf (down from 4500 several years ago). Some are unmanned, but all are checked daily, weekly, or monthly. Currently they’re drilling about 50 new rigs. Shifts vary for the 10,000 offshore workers: 7 days on/7 days off or 14 days on/14 days off. Cooks often stay out for 4 or 5 months.