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Reeled Pipeline Laying

The first installation of an oil industry subsea pipeline by unspooling a long, continuous length of pipe wound on a reel took place on September 1, 1962, in the Gulf of Mexico. The 12-mile line was installed for Standard Oil Co. of Texas by New Orleans-based Aquatic Contractors & Engineers, Inc. a subsidiary of Gurtler Hebert Contractors, using its U-303 lay barge. The continuous pipe was made by welding joints together onshore.  Ancestor of the Aquatic system was a reel-type barge developed by the British military with British oil company assistance during World War II. Part of what was called Operation PLUTO (Pipe-Line Under The Ocean), it was used to lay six 3-in. steel lines across the English Channel from the U.K. to France in 1944, immediately following the D-Day invasion, to provide a continuous supply of gasoline to Allied armies. The California Co.ís (CALCO) support was instrumental in Aquatic improvements that made spooled pipe viable for crude oil and gas transport.  At the time, CALCO and Standard of Texas were both subsidiaries of Standard Oil Co. of California, now ChevronTexaco. Aquatic proved 1-1/2 to 6-in. diameter line pipe with polyethylene coating could withstand bending during spooling without loss of pressure integrity. Innovations over PLUTO equipment included a 40-ft. diameter hydraulic motor- powered reel; a hold-back brake (tensioning device) for spooling pipe; a level winding unit to guide pipe; hangers to support pipe on the downrap of the reel; and straightening rollers to relieve pipe deformation during unspooling. A major advantage of spooled pipe was being able to pull a riser through a J-tube. From 1962 to 1975, the U-303 installed over seven million ft. of pipe in water depths to 350 ft. Subsequently, Aquatic became a division of Fluor Ocean Services, which in turn built the Fluor RB-2, a larger reel barge capable of laying lines to 12-in. diameter. Later, Fluor was merged with Santa Fe Engineering Services, now GlobalSantaFe Corp., which then constructed the first large reel pipe lay ship.   

     Recognizing the pioneering efforts of the following individuals and companies that contributed to the development of this technology:

Bob Cross, Fritz Culver, Pat Tesson, Aquatic Contractors & Engineers, Inc. (now GlobalSantaFe), and the California Company (now ChevronTexaco).


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