LeTourneau begins work on 3rd of 4 Tarzan rigs

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 22, 2004

LeTourneau employees, from left, Billy Wigley, Leonard Jackson and Cameron Lewis make sure the keel-laying goes smoothly as it is lowered into place Tuesday, beginning the construction of the third Tarzan-class oil rig at LeTourneau. (Jon GiffinThe Vicksburg Post)

[12/22/04]A new two-year construction project was begun Tuesday with the laying of the base of a new offshore oil rig by one of Vicksburg’s largest employers.

A 150-foot crane swung a flat steel keel weighing 25,000 pounds into place at LeTourneau’s Vicksburg Marine Construction Shipyard south of Vicksburg on the Mississippi River.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am

It will be the foundation for an exploratory rig the third of four planned in its class, called Tarzan. Locally done work on it is scheduled to be completed on Dec. 1, 2006.

Tarzan rigs are for “shallow water, deep drilling,” said the production manager at LeTourneau, Bo-D Massey.

The first Tarzan rig left Vicksburg in January for the company’s final-assembly point, Sabine Pass, Texas. It has already done or is set to do some of the deepest offshore-oil exploration ever done, said Danny McNease, chief executive of LeTourneau’s parent company, Rowan, which is based in Houston.

That rig, named the Scooter Yeargain, is scheduled to work at 38,000 feet on the site of what is “probably the most important well” being drilled below the Gulf of Mexico, said McNease. The rig has already drilled a well 20,000 feet below the gulf’s floor, he added.

The second Tarzan rig, named the Bob Keller, is about 65 percent complete and is scheduled to leave Vicksburg May 23 and Sabine Pass Sept. 1, said VMC’s top manager, Donald Cross.

Each Tarzan rig costs about $100 million and is designed to be used in tropical-storm areas. They are engineered to withstand storms of strength that is produced, on average, once every 100 years, he added.

The class of rig LeTourneau produced before Tarzan was called Super Gorilla. Rigs of that class were designed to drill in deeper water and in harsher conditions, such as in the North Sea, and are large enough to be used for some offshore-oil production as well as exploration, Cross said. They cost about twice as much as Tarzan rigs, he added.

LeTourneau finished its first oil rig in Vicksburg in November 1955. From then until about 2001 it produced 80 rigs here and 107 rigs in other locations worldwide, company information says. VMC is LeTourneau’s only active rig-construction operation, Cross said.

VMC employs about 837 people, and its peak employment has been 1,130, McNease said.

Tuesday’s keel-laying ceremony was attended by about 30 people, including Rowan executives and members of the Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce.

In 1992, the local operation closed. In 1994, Rowan reopened the plant to meet new demand.

The company’s next class of rig will be called Workhorse, Cross said.

In operations outside Warren County, LeTourneau also provides large mobile equipment for other industries, including forestry and mining.

VMC also provides other services for the offshore industry. For example, while it builds the two Tarzan rigs, VMC is also working on a 200-foot dredge, McNease said.