A Monument to Honor International Oilfield Divers

By Rusty Wright

As the energy transition advances, we would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge that the oil and gas industry has been a foundational force in society.

Among the fundamental human components of the industry are oilfield divers, who have worked decades underwater to contribute to powering the world.

It is time to acknowledge the many contributions of oilfield divers. We stand on the shoulders of these giants of the industry.

In honor of them, a monument will be built in Morgan City, Louisiana, comprising a life-size bronze statue of an early oilfield diver to commemorate this profession.

The first over-water oil wells were drilled in the late 1800s in the ocean, from piers extending off the beach at Summerland, California. During the 20th century, the evolution of the oil and gas industry and its movement offshore was one of the fundamental forces that shaped our culture, geography, society and economy. In 1911, Gulf Oil drilled the world’s first oil well in the inland waters of Lake Caddo, Louisiana. In the late 1920s and into the ’30s, the lakes, marshes and bayous of southern Louisiana began to rival the famous Spindletop oil field in neighboring Texas in the production of fossil fuels. In 1947, a consortium of companies led by Kerr-McGee and Phillips Petroleum completed the first out-of-sight-of-land well off Morgan City, Louisiana, marking a new phase in the evolution of the global oil and gas industry. By the late 1950s, oilfield diving had become an essential function of offshore petroleum operations. Divers assisted in constructing, installing, repairing, and salvaging offshore platforms and pipelines.

None of these operations would have been possible without the guys that jumped into the water to retrieve a lost tool, stab a drill pipe or tighten a flange. 

In the mid-1940s, oilfield diving developed into a profession. Those divers and the companies they started made incredible discoveries, breakthroughs and steady improvement in their career space, including safety processes and procedures. These efforts have been incorporated into many other industries, from robotics to the medical field and space exploration, just to name a few. The Space Shuttle astronauts working on the Hubble telescope even mentioned divers–where are they when you need them?–as they struggled with installing new mirrors.

The Oilfield Divers Monument will be a bronze, life-size diver dressed in an early DESCO helmet, showcasing the old-style heavy gear, which has since morphed into light gear with advances in technology and design. The diver will carry a burning torch, jet nozzle and a hammer wrench with umbilical hoses on the deck.

The monument will include the early history of (and some improvements in) safety, equipment and procedures made by those working in the industry.

One of the intentions in building this monument is to inspire young people to follow their dreams.

In a small way, this monument will also pay tribute to those who have lost their lives while working as oilfield divers.

We invite you to visit www.oilfielddiversmonument.org to discover the history of oilfield diving, early photographs of the industry and links to related material.

Burleson Bronze out of Austin, Texas, has been selected as the designer and sculptor of the monument because of its previous excellent work on the Morgan City, Louisiana, Veterans Memorial, which is adjacent to the site of the Oilfield Divers Monument. The company’s work can be seen at: www.burlesonbronze.com.

Morgan City, Louisiana, is supporting the monument by providing the location in its memorial park and installing the base for the statue.

Everyone is invited to the unveiling on April 29, 2023.

The Oilfield Divers Monument is a project of the International Petroleum Museum & Exposition, a 501(c)(3) corporation in Morgan City, Louisiana.

Donations are being accepted for those who would like to contribute to the building of the monument. Those interested may contact: Rusty Wright at 785-258-4180, Bryce Merrill at 985-518-1000 or Jack Vilas at 985-519-0993.

Learn more here.

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