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From the bottom of the sea to your tank

March 13, 2003|Mark Sachs | Times Staff Writer

If you're planning on drilling for oil in seas infamous for brewing up the perfect storm, you'd better have the perfect oil rig, and as tonight's edition of "Extreme Machines" reveals, engineers have come pretty close to designing precisely that.

TLC's one-hour documentary (airing at 8 p.m.) takes viewers off the coast of Nova Scotia aboard the Eirik Raude, a 50,000-ton platform that can ferret out reserves at depths that were previously unreachable. Named for the Norse explorer known as Eric the Red, the platform floats on the surface while its drill burrows up to six miles beneath the ocean floor, nearly three times deeper than previous rigs.

With a hospital, mess hall and even a rec room wedged in among all the machinery, it's almost a floating city. And with its crew of 120 split on alternating 12-hour shifts for round-the-clock drilling, it's a city that never sleeps. Because the rig costs the Canadian oil company EnCana $250,000 a day on lease from its Norwegian owners, time is of the essence. After three weeks, a fresh 120-person crew is shipped in, and the beat goes on.

Despite a jazzy score, split-screen action and razzle-dazzle graphics that come and go with whooshing sound effects, this is probably more than most people care to know about oil drilling. But after seeing the lengths we must go to get the oil, $2-a-gallon gas seems like a bargain.

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