Diving as a Factor in Offshore Oil and Gas Development (Part1)

The following is an excerpt from a government doc**ent on the Louisiana Offshore Olifields. It gives a historical insight of the evolution of GOM oilfield divers and the ADCI. Enjoy.

The first diving operations in the Gulf of Mexico were little more than topside jobs completed

underwater. Men recall jumping off of boats, barges, and platforms to retrieve dropped objects,

install clamps, or check for oyster beds. They did not have, nor perceive a need for, any formal

training as divers.

However, the progress into deeper water was rapid, and keeping the rigs, platforms, pipelines,

and vessels operating called for modification and innovation. Underwater jobs required longer

than the time a man could hold his breath and expanded to include inspection, installation of

anodes for protection against corrosion, and salvage. Those already working in the industry

began to look outward for new technologies developed elsewhere, and those with the interest and

training in underwater work saw the industry as a new opportunity.

Working from within the industry, local workers used the air compressors available on boats and

acquired war surplus equipment to create systems that would allow them to breathe while

underwater. The early jobs were in depths under 100 feet, and divers could stay down as long as

they wanted without suffering ill effects, so there were ample opportunities for them to learn how

to manipulate tools and perform tasks underwater. Through magazines and trade publications

individuals acquired information and ideas. Each diver had to come to the job with his own

mask, hose, and compressor, and anyone who acquired the equipment was likely to form his own

company. Technological diffusion was rapid, facilitated by the loose organization of diving

companies and their propensity to join together when more than one or two divers were needed

on a job.

SCUBA (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) was developed in 1947 but was not

readily adapted for offshore work. Specialized tanks and compressors were not available in New

Orleans until the mid-1950’s, and even then they were rare. Roy Smith, a diver who introduced

SCUBA gear to the offshore industry in the Gulf described the early days:

In the early ‘50’s, around ’53 or ’54, work was slow, so my friend and I said,

“Why don’t we go to Grand Isle?”… I was in the U.S. Coast Guard during the

war, so I went and got my operator’s license and started working on boats. After

awhile, the platforms grew in number, and I got more interested in diving. I

wanted to dive. There was no SCUBA diving at that time. Since I was the captain

of a boat, I got me a gas mask and a hose and would dive around the boat. A

friend of mine and I had heard about them diving with SCUBA gear in Florida, so

we said, “Let’s go see it.” … Rowland’s Sporting and Army Goods Store in New

Orleans ordered an aqualung. They didn’t know what to do with it, so they called

me. We threw it overboard and all took a dive with the tank. I bought the

aqualung from him. They found a surplus compressor from a submarine and put it

in their store and started filling tanks (Smith, personal communication, 2002).

A few years later, in 1957, Ronald and Walter Daspit, natives of Lafayette, Louisiana, developed

a “bailout bottle” that could be worn on a diver’s belt and provide a short-term, emergency air

supply for a diver whose surface air supply had been cut off.

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