Zeus Dethroned

Article by Liz Moucka | September 28, 2010

On May 3, Cleveland Wrecking performed a milestone of toppling two of Zeus' three massive leg top structures that towered between 140 and 150 feet above the platform. As a size comparison, note the two Komatsu excavators and Bobcat skid steer at the top right of the photo.

The tale of the drilling rig known as Zeus came to an end in early July. The 190-foot-tall Zeus Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit (MODU) had been sitting derelict and decaying, spudded down at the mouth of the Freeport Ship Channel south of Houston for 17 years.

Jerry Patterson, Commissioner of the Texas General Land Office, said the current owner of the Zeus — Brownsville-based Sanship Inc., which bought it at auction for a $1 in 2004 — had been given opportunity to remove the rig from state waters at their own expense. But once the Zeus began leaking oil in September 2006, it became clear the rig needed to go. During the fall of 2006, ESCO Marine Inc. conducted an inspection, de-watering and structural survey operation onboard the Zeus to stop minor discharges caused by rainwater run off.

The greatest threat posed by the 190-foot tall rig was its potential to topple and block the narrow entrance of the Freeport Ship Channel. The U.S. Coast Guard inspected the jack-up rig and determined that a hurricane or tornado could easily cause its collapse. In July 2007, Patterson issued an emergency order to remove the Zeus from state waters. The emergency order was the first by a Texas Land Commissioner under new authority granted by the 79th Legislature to remove derelict structures from state waters.

"Rather than removing the rig, the Zeus' owner then filed a federal lawsuit against the Land Office, seeking a temporary restraining order to block the removal of the derelict rig," according to Patterson. "The court denied the owner's request."

The Land Office is now in possession of the rig. The 80th Legislature authorized $2 million for the removal of the Zeus mobile offshore drilling rig and entrusted Patterson with the job. The GLO advertised the job and awarded the dismantling contract to Cleveland Wrecking Company for $1.75 million.

"Safety was our number one objective," said Rich Arnhart, regional director for the GLO.

"We rebuilt a lot of the stairs and put up our own cable hand rails and cordoned off some of the deck that was rusted through too badly," described Keith Knudslien, project manager for Cleveland Wrecking. "There was two weeks' work right there just getting it ready to get our men up there."

May 3, Cleveland Wrecking performed a milestone of toppling two of the three massive leg top structures that towered between 140 and 150 feet above the platform.

"Cranes were used to attach rigging cables to the tops of the legs," described Arnhart. "Workers used torches to hinge-cut the legs, and then everyone was evacuated from the rig. Then excavators toppled and pulled the leg structures onto the shore staging area, where workers will continue cutting the steel into smaller sections."

A 250-ton Kobelco track crane was brought on-site to perform the heaviest lifting and hoisting. Part of the preparations included building a crane pad of concrete rip rap with train mats on top of that.

"We built the pad for the crane to sit on out in the water so he could get closer to his work, to increase the capacity of the crane," said Knudslien. "We torched apart the helicopter pad and hoisted it down in small sections, also the equipment on deck, which included the generator room and generators, the deck cranes and then the derrick platform."

On shore, these large pieces of steel are being cut into smaller sections. The larger pieces of steel, some up to 5-1/2 inches thick, must be cut with torches. Much of the processing can be handled by the Link Belt 5800 excavator that has been outfitted with a 100R LaBounty shear.

Knudslien estimates that the rig will yield between 4,000 tons and 4,500 tons of steel. Cleveland Wrecking has been researching the scrap market for recycling. Work is expected to be completed by July 3.