Heart of Louisiana: The Mr. Charlie

Heart of Louisiana: The Mr. Charlie
Published: Oct. 29, 2015 at 12:29 AM CDT|Updated: Oct. 29, 2015 at 9:50 PM CDT
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MORGAN CITY, LA (WVUE) - Coastal Louisiana has been a major hub for offshore oil and gas exploration for well over a half-century. But unless you work in the business, you've probably never set foot on an offshore rig.  But one pioneering platform has become a museum and invites visitors to climb aboard.  Dave McNamara takes us to Morgan City aboard the Mr. Charlie in tonight's Heart of Louisiana.

This has been a working oil rig for more than 60 years.  But today it's not working so hard that it won't welcome visitors.  While its new crew is getting schooled in the offshore experience, visitors can come aboard and tour this landmark rig.

"Morgan City is known as the birthplace of the offshore oil and gas industry," said Virgil Allen with the International Petroleum Museum.

And this aging steel platform has been around since almost the beginning. This rig is called the Mr. Charlie. It's one of thousands that drilled for oil and gas along the Gulf Coast. But Mr. Charlie is special - it revolutionized the oil business. In the early days, any overwater platform had to be built in shallow water.  But the Mr. Charlie changed that. It was the first submersible rig.

"So you will tow into location then fill the ballast tanks with water, sinking the rig to the bottom. Once the rig is on the bottom of the gulf floor, now you have a stable work platform," Allen said.

The rig could work in water up to 40 feet deep.

"Everything is portable," Allen said. "When you look at drilling, it's much faster, less expensive, you can move from site to site."

From 1954 to 1986, the Mr. Charlie drilled hundreds of wells along coastal Louisiana.  Now, it sits permanently on the Atchafalaya River in downtown Morgan City functioning as a museum with guided tours.

"They have no earthly idea what it's like to be working offshore," Allen said. "So this gives them an idea of what it's like to get that oil into shore and then to the gas pump."

And the rig is still used to train offshore workers

"This is also a hands-on, live-aboard training facility," Allen said. "So they get to see of this is the lifestyle they want. Some of these guys through the years have quit because they see, okay, I just don't want to live like this."

They sleep in cramped dorm rooms, eat in the rig's cafeteria - which serves up four meals a day, and walk its uneven floors.

"This rig was offshore during a hurricane, and the waves beat this deck up and bent the steel," Allen said. "So that's why we evacuate."

Drilling pipe is hoisted from barges to the drilling deck.

"This is the whole reason you built the rig, for this one site right here," Allen said.

The tools that drilled so many holes into the bottom of the Gulf are still in place.

"Twenty-four hours a day. That's the process, Allen said.

The Mr. Charlie offers a rare chance to see how it's done.  How workers could tap into massive offshore oilfields that have helped to fuel a nation for well over a half-century.

You can visit the Mr. Charlie in Morgan City and take a tour Monday through Saturday at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

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