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First Tarzan rig begins trip to Texas

Eugene Acreman, LeTourneau quality manager, left, and Kasper Bontje, a barge engineer for Rowan Drilling Company, follow the progress of the Tarzan rig being moved at LeTourneau before being shipped out to Sabine Pass, Texas, today. (Jon Giffin The Vicksburg Post)

[1/15/04]A smaller exploratory oil rig, the first of its class, was to start its trip down the Mississippi today after LeTourneau workers finished their part of the project.

“It’s designed for deep drilling in shallow water,” LeTourneau Vice President Donald Cross said of the Tarzan class rig, which will be floated to the Texas Gulf Coast for final assembly.

The riverside LeTourneau plant off U.S. 61 South employs more than 1,000 people who have worked on the rig for about a year, Cross said.

It is to be completed at a separate company operation just across the Texas-Louisiana border at Sabine Pass, Texas, by April 1, he said.

Rigs are placed on barges here only partially assembled so they can fit beneath the river bridges between here and the Gulf of Mexico.

Another unit of LeTourneau’s parent company, Rowan Companies Inc., will operate the rig once it is complete, Cross said.

The 15-month delivery time is typical for a LeTourneau rig, Cross said. The Vicksburg operation generally has two rigs under construction at one time, he added.

Cross said the Tarzan class is all-new, making it a challenge. The new rigs are smaller than the class of LeTourneau’s previous design, the Super Gorilla class.

The rigs have legs that raise them up from the water to provide a stable base for drilling operations. They can be moved from site to site.

The Super Gorilla can drill in 500 feet of water and the Tarzan in about 275 feet. But Cross added the Tarzan rigs are designed to drill deeper, up to about 30,000 feet, in search of crude oil and natural gas.

Work on the second rig in the series began about three months ago, Cross said.

The rig is named the Scooter Yeargain in honor of a retired Rowan vice president.

Four Tarzan Class rigs are to be built at the Vicksburg yard. They are expected to keep the work force there busy well into 2006.

LeTourneau was founded in the 1940s by the late R.G. LeTourneau as a manufacturer of artillery shells for World War II and then as a maker of large earthmoving equipment. Later, LeTourneau switched to making the large jackup drill rigs.

When the oil business declined, the lack of business hit LeTourneau hard. For a time, the company tried to diversify. But in 1992, the local operation closed. In 1994, Rowan reopened the plant to meet new demand.