Exploring for Oil and Gas in Canada's Beaufort Sea

Captain Alec Provan 2013


With the pack–ice receding the Arctic drilling program begins. Offshore oil and gas production is more challenging than land-based installations due to the remote and harsher environment. The best way for petroleum geologists to gain a full understanding of subsurface geology and the potential for natural gas deposits is to drill an exploratory well. In the Arctic Ocean a drill ship is utilized to make an exploratory well. (Photo from Captain Alec Provan collection.)


The drill–ship is moored securely over the well–head and the drilling operation gets under way. Drilling equipment is passed through the vessel’s moon pool (a large opening in the hull of the ship) and connected to the well equipment below via a flexible riser pipe that extends from the top of the well to the bottom of the drill–ship. (Photo from Captain Alec Provan collection.)


The Blow–out Preventer (BOP) is lowered to the sea–bed and connected to the well–head. As its name suggests, the BOP is the last line of defense in the event of a blow–out, enabling the well to be sealed before the contents are expelled into the ocean. (Photo from Captain Alec Provan collection.)


The drilling operation is controlled by the Driller from his cabin on the drill–floor. (Photo from Captain Alec Provan collection.)


The heart of the operation is the draw–works, a massive winch which is used to transfer drill pipe from the ship’s hold to the derrick. (Photo from Captain Alec Provan collection.)


From the derrick the pipe is moved to the drill–floor. A swivel which is a large handle that holds the weight of the drill string allows it to rotate and makes a pressure–tight seal on the hole. (Photo from Captain Alec Provan collection.)


The dirty, dangerous work of connecting sections of drill pipe takes place on the drill floor. (Photo from Captain Alec Provan collection.)


The drill string consists of drill pipe (connected sections of about 30 feet (10 meters) of pipe and drill collars (larger diameter, heavier pipe that fits around the drill pipe and places weight on the drill bit). (Photo from Captain Alec Provan collection.)


The drill bit is located at the end of the pipe that actually cuts the rock. (Photo from Captain Alec Provan collection.)


Meanwhile ‘Smiling Jack’ Gallagher, Chairman of Dome Canada, talks seductively to potential investors in the wheelhouse of the Canmar Explorer III. Gallagher formed Dome Petroleum in 1950 oversaw it’s growth to Canada’s largest independent oil company in the 1980s.(Photo from Captain Alec Provan collection.)


A supply vessel, Canmar Supplier 8 is secured alongside, transferring fuel, drilling mud and other essential supplies to the drill–ship. (Photo from Captain Alec Provan collection.)


The drilling operation continues 24/7, taking advantage of the continuous daylight in the Arctic Summer. Eventually the sun dips below the horizon, briefly at first, then for longer and longer periods each day, signifying the arrival of winter and the imminent end of the short drilling season. During the brief summer construction period there was activity underway preparing the subsea base pads on which the SSDC would be set for winter drilling. Several winter drill seasons took place using Canmar’s fleet. (Photo from Captain Alec Provan collection.)

Coping With Sea Ice

Polar Bear Monitoring

Wandering polar bears are an ever-present danger on the ice in the Arctic. Armed bear monitors on the ice with Karelian Bear Dogs bred to deter bears reduced the contact with humans and keeps bears safe too. (Photo from Robert Nimmo collection.)

Canmar Kigoriak

When ice buildup became an issue the icebreaker Canmar Kigoriak was always available to assist. (Photo from Robert Nimmo collection.)

Ice Formation

Ice buildup around the drill ships must be managed to ensure that there is no interuption in operations. (Photo from Robert Nimmo collection.)

Ice Floe Monitoring

Shore–based ice monitoring teams were prepared to give early warning of any ice movement potentially problematic to drilling operations. (Photo from Robert Nimmo collection.)

Early Season

Early in the drilling season there is plenty of sea ice to in the vicinity. (Photo from Robert Nimmo collection.)

Ice Auger

Teams undertaking physical ice drilling to monitor ice buildup were active in the vicinity of the drill ships. Note the ever–present bear dog. (Photo from Robert Nimmo collection.)


Editor’s note: Captain Alec Provan spent two drilling seasons working with Canmar Petroleum as a Mate in drill ships in the Beaufort Sea. (All photographs in this article copyright to Captain Alec Provan.)

To quote from this article please cite:

Provan, Captain Alec (2013) Exploring for Oil and Gas in Canada's Beaufort Sea. Nauticapedia.ca 2013. http://nauticapedia.ca/Articles/Arctic_Sea_Drilling.php

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