BP Spill: Ripples

The life of a delta diver

Marketplace Staff May 19, 2010
BP Spill: Ripples

The life of a delta diver

Marketplace Staff May 19, 2010


Tess Vigeland: Cuba has joined the ranks of governments concerned over all that oil still spewing from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. The State Department says U.S. and Cuban officials are in talks over how to respond to the crisis that began more than four weeks ago with an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

Meanwhile, tonight on the National Geographic Channel you can get a sense of what it’s like to work below those rigs. “Delta Divers” is a new two-part special that chronicles the lives of commercial divers who build the platforms and lay the pipe. To learn more we invited producer Scott B to join us today, along with John Mosier. He was a commercial diver for 20 years before launching an equipment company in Lafayette, La. Welcome to both of you.

Scott B: Thank you.

John Mosier: Thank you.

Vigeland: I tell you John, watching the guys in the film do their job is really intense. You know, struggling to fix a broken pipe that deep underwater. I don’t know how you did this work for so long.

Mosier: Sometimes I wonder how I did it myself for so long. But it was a great ride all the way along.

Vigeland: Why did you choose it?

Mosier: Well, actually, I’m from the Midwest and I was always fascinated by diving…

Vigeland: Because you have so many places to do that in the Midwest.

Mosier: Yeah. Corn fields weren’t… I was surrounded by corn fields in the Midwest. And when I told people back there growing up that I was going to be a commercial diver, they had absolutely no clue what I was talking about.

Vigeland: You know Scott, I had not idea about this whole commercial diving industry. Tell us a little bit about it. How big is it?

Scott B: I understand there are somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000 divers in the Gulf of Mexico, and over 20,000 divers worldwide. It’s still a fairly small community of people.

Vigeland: But a lot of them it sounds like are concentrated in the Gulf.

Scott B: The Gulf of Mexico is the kind of Mecca for divers in a way. If you want to become a commercial diver that’s the place you want to go, because you know, the deeper you go, the more money you make.

Vigeland: Well, how much money are we talking about?

Scott B: Well, on the Southern Hercules for instance, they’re diving to 300 feet. Diving to that depth, the depth pay that they get, is over $1,200, plus their daily rate of over $600 or something like that.

Vigeland: So you’re looking at a couple grand a day.

Scott B: They’re making a lot of money.

Vigeland: John, how far did you ever go down?

Mosier: My deepest dive was just past 600 feet.

Vigeland: And what’s that like?

Mosier: Pretty much diving in 600 feet of water or 50 feet of water are pretty much the same, as far as the task for the diver. I mean, you don’t really feel any physical difference, except when you start going past the 500-foot threshold, and you overexert yourself on bottom. It’s very easy for you to become short of breath, and it takes a long time for you to recapture your breath.

Scott B: One of the things that people don’t think of, really, is that when you’re working underwater like that, you’re working under an immense amount of pressure. That’s what the impact is and why your chemistry changes is, for every 33 feet you go down, you’re adding another atmosphere, another 15 pounds per square inch of pressure.

Vigeland: Well, we have a clip here from the film that shows what it’s like when you are in the deep end, running out of time.

Supervisor: Hurry every chance you got, bud. I know I’m pressing you, but we’re almost out of bottom time, brother.

Man 2: OK, I got it. I’ll stop.

Man 2: You have precious seconds down there to spare. The max I can stay down was 60 minutes, and I had 60 minutes.

Supervisor: 15 seconds.

Man 3: All right, get that basket out of there!

Supervisor: You have to leave bottom in five, four…

Man 3: Swing that crate away!

SUPERVISOR: Three, two.

Vigeland: I felt almost claustrophobic just watching this process. John, when you go that deep, you also don’t have a lot whole lot of time to do your job, right?

Mosier: If you made a surface gas dive 200, 300 feet — if I remember correctly, I think your max bottom time was about 20 minutes. And it may take two to three minutes, depending on the current, just to reach the bottom, and then you need a couple of minutes to clear yourself before you leave bottom. So you basically have 15 minutes to get down there and complete your work. And most times, there’s absolutely no visibility at all, so yeah, you’re always racing the clock.

Vigeland: So I gotta ask you about the BP oil spill. This is just too deep for any human being to try to go down and fix it?

Mosier: That’s correct. Yes, it’s just too deep.

Scott B: The deepest human beings can go, effectively, is just over 1,000 feet.

Vigeland: And the deep waters at…

Scott B: Is over 5,000.

Vigeland: So really at this point, the industry’s going so far out that commercial divers can’t help out when you have a disaster like this.

Scott B: That’s correct. They’ve made some hard suits — those were not totally successful. And as automation, as the robots are getting more and more effective, they’ve been allowing the drilling and the exploration deeper and deeper.

Vigeland: Scott B is the producer of “Delta Divers,” which you can see tonight on the National Geographic Channel. And John Mosier has been speaking with us from his equipment company in Lafayette, La. He also served as consultant on this film. Thank you for both for joining us.

Scott B: Thank you.

Mosier: Thank you.

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