OceanGate Inc. (OGI), a global provider of deep-sea manned submersible solutions, has completed a series of dives in the Gulf of Mexico to observe the ecological impact of decommissioned oil platforms on ocean life using the 5-person manned submersible Antipodes. This expedition was part of an initial study related to the "Rigs to Reefs" program, a critical issue in the decommissioning of platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and around the world, and highlighted the unique ability of manned submersibles to collect a wide range of data, environmental information, and assessments around oil platforms. OGI's ability to work alone or in tandem with AUVs and ROVs facilitates work in offshore environments for a variety of operations including structural surveys, pipeline inspections, bottom debris surveys, and subsea facility inspections.
OceanGate's expert crew took leading researcher and coral expert Dr. Paul W. Sammarco and CBS news reporter Chip Reid to South Timbalier 185 B, owned by Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations LLC ("Black Elk Energy"). Black Elk Energy CEO John Hoffman was also onboard with his team to help guide the effort and ensure data observation efforts were aligned with inspection and safety requirements.
Dr. Sammarco remarked that the ability to conduct visual reconnaissance on the platform and its environment was unparalleled and far surpassed the capabilities of scuba diving or even remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). The 180-degree hemispherical viewport offered a broad perspective on the plants and animals present – including, corals, soft corals, algae, bottom fish, and open-water organisms such as dolphins, cobia, sharks and other fish. The potential to run ecological surveys for long periods of time in a one-atmosphere environment, and to collect specimens at depth, represents a tremendous asset, particularly for researchers working sites such as decommissioned oil platforms.
Known as "Idle Iron," retired platforms in many sites across the Gulf of Mexico have evolved into the perfect hosts for a complex and diverse set of species that are thriving and reestablishing underwater footprints, much as they do around artificial reefs. Along with collecting data, the expedition allowed stakeholders, including researchers, media, and engineers, the chance to see the environment first-hand and in real time with the flexibility to change mission operations on the fly.
"The Black Elk dive clearly establishes the viability of manned submersibles in the oil and gas industry, especially in the application of environmental assessments and inspections," states Stockton Rush, founder and CEO of OceanGate.
"The opportunity to dive on the platform with media and industry stakeholders adds a new level of impact for our efforts on this issue and was significant," says John Hoffman, CEO of Black Elk Energy. "The flexibility, practicality and affordability of working with OceanGate was exceptional. Not only was the process of using a manned submersible well organized and fast, but the research we conducted and information we gathered was far greater than anything I expected. We see the applications in the future for manned submersibles for use related to oil and gas efforts. I look forward to working with OceanGate again very soon on a variety of opportunities."
The Gulf of Mexico dive was also a first for OGI in another regard: it was one of three expeditions conducted in less than 30 days in three separate bodies of water, something never done before by a manned research submersible. In addition, the variety of clients served was equally impressive.
The first expedition was performed in Washington State's Puget Sound, testing various subsea tools and technology while also executing several safety training exercises. Soon after, Antipodes was secured onto a flatbed transport and delivered to the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON) in Chauvin, Louisiana, to fulfill the dive contract with Black Elk Energy. The submersible was then transferred yet again, this time for Expedition Lionfish in Ft. Lauderdale, where OceanGate conducted six dives to monitor the invasive lionfish species that has devastated reef habitats along the Florida coast. The lionfish dives provided a never-before-seen look at the damage the fish have done below diver depths, and the data collected is considered by marine experts to be unparalleled. OGI's ability to dive in three separate bodies of water in such a short amount of time highlights the company's capacity to service clients quickly and proves the effectiveness of manned submersibles as a tool for both research and commercial applications. With easy transportability and maneuverability during operations, coupled with the ability to offer up to four individuals the chance to observe, collaborate and analyze a site in real time, OGI continues to prove the effectiveness of manned submersibles in a wide variety of situations, industries and locations.
"The capability to conduct operations in the Pacific, Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic in just 30 days is indicative of what we stand for as a company," declares Rush. "We know that there are multiple industries that need to utilize manned subs for a myriad of reasons and this string of dives proves that OceanGate's submersibles are ready