The Anonymous Widower

The Balaena Lives

Not quite, but there is a lot of Balaena thinking behind Shell’s new FLNG.

So what was the design I worked upon in Cambridge for Balaena Structures all those years ago like?

The problem with offshore oil platforms is that they are very expensive and once they’ve extracted all the oil from the oilfield on which they sit, they are very difficult to take down.

In the mid-1970s, some very clever structural engineers from Cambridge University came up with a design for a reuseable platform, that could be built in a ship yard, that would normally build supertankers.

The design was simply a steel cylinder, perhaps about a hundred metres long and thirty or so in diameter.  I can’t be sure of the size as it is nearly forty years ago and I have kept no records. The idea was that it would be built horizontally and then towed into position, where it would be turned through ninety degrees to sit on the ocean floor above the oilfield.

So the eventual bottom end was closed off and would have had a skirt that sat in the ocean floor and held the platform in position by a sort of gum boot principle. The other end was also closed and supported a square working deck about twenty metres high on a stem about the same length.

My part was to do the calculations on the upending, which would have been accomplished by letting sea water into the enormous tank under control.

The calculations were not that simple, but because of my dynamic simulation experience, they were well within my compass and I was able to do them on a simple time-shared computer.

I did prove that because of the vast weight of steel and the not inconsiderable weight of sea water, that the Balaena would install itself as designed. Sadly it was one of those projects that after a considerable amount of effort never came to fruition.

Some other points about the design should be noted.

  1. The tank could be used to store the oil extracted and this could then be pumped to a waiting tanker.
  2. When it needed to be moved, the tank would be emptied and at the appropriate point, the Balaena would float vertically. It could then be towed still upright to a new position.

All of this might seem rather fanciful, but I suspect that some of the ideas in the Balaena have been used successfully in the other designs.

I started talking about the Balaena, when the Deepwater Horizon blew up in the Gulf of Mexico. At the time I was lying on a bed after a serious stroke in Hong Kong. I imagined an empty Balaena ready and waiting floating horizontally in the sea within a few hundred miles of the clusters of oil platforms.  It would differ from the 1970s platform design, in that the working deck would be much simpler and probably only there to control the pumping.  It would also not have a complete bottom to allow the oil to enter the tank.

Could it have been towed to the site and upended over the leaking well, as a crude but effective cap? The oil would still float to the surface, but inside the tank of the Balaena, from where it could be pumped out.

The idea may still be fanciful, but I can guarantee that the structure would upend as required, just by adding sea water to the tank. I did the calculations to prove it in the early 1970s.

July 16, 2011 - Posted by | News, World | , , ,


  1. Remember the Brent Spar this was the same but made of concrete and we all know what Greenpeace did to that structure.

    Comment by George Bell | July 17, 2011 | Reply

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  3. […] I can’t help thinking that a Balaena like structure could be used. It would be tall and thin and the wind-turbine could just be lifted […]

    Pingback by Could a Balaena Like Structure Be Used As a Wind Power Platform? « The Anonymous Widower | June 11, 2012 | Reply

  4. […] There is also a brief description of the idea in The Balaena Lives. […]

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  5. […] I do wonder, if these structures have borrowed the work done in Cambridge by Balaena Structures, for which I did the calculations, as I wrote about in The Balaena Lives. […]

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  6. […] industry and could have been used to control the Deepwater Horizon accident. I talked about this in The Balaena Lives, which again is from […]

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