From the generally accepted "birth" of the offshore industry in the Gulf of Mexico in 1947, 22 years elapsed before the first offshore structure design "standard", the 1st Edition of API RP 2A1, was issued. In the ensuing 35 years, the offshore structure technology, design practices and standards have seen a continuing evolution, a broadening of the original scope to encompass many diverse types of offshore structures, and an expansion from the original birthplace to an increasing number of other geographic areas. In turn, the "technology export" planted seeds that resulted in significant contributions to the industry growth from the international community.
With the API RP 2A 22nd Edition currently under preparation, this paper presents a high-level overview of the evolution of the US offshore industry design practices and standards over the past 50 years, the leading role of the API Committee on Standardization of Offshore Structures, and a preview of the major changes expected in the new edition.
Drilling and production operations over waters started well over 100 years ago, usually carried out from decks supported by wooden piles, connected to shore by long piers. This solution was successfully replicated in diverse locations such as the coast of Louisiana, the Caspian Sea, and Venezuela's Lake Maracaibo.
The term "offshore" came into use some time later, in reference to drilling and production facilities hosted by man-made islands, physically separated from the shore.
The installation in 20 feet (6 m) of water off the coast of Louisiana of a steel platform owned by Kerr-McGee and designed by Brown & Root, in 1947, is generally accepted as the "official" birth of the offshore industry. Today, just over half a century later, production facilities in 6,000 feet (2,000 m) of water are a reality, while drilling in 10,000 feet of water is well within the industry's sights.
The history of the offshore industry, from its beginning to this day, is a multidimensional, multinational, and very colorful tapestry, with interweaving threads of extreme challenges, breathtaking drama, daring innovation, occasional failures, and, most of all, outstanding accomplishments.
Over the years, many (companies and individuals alike) have contributed to the industry's advances and successes. Today, through the ebb and tide of business fortunes, the relentless erosion of time, and the constant winds of change, most of the pioneers are gone, companies have been swallowed up by "leaner and meaner" competitors, old time names and logos have disappeared as part of "corporate re-branding", and much of the "old way" of working has been washed away by the tidal waves of "new business models".
Fortunately, the memories and knowledge remain, thanks in part to an ample body of literature that, albeit in piecemeal fashion, captures much of the industry's lore, its collective experience and expertise. Some examples of the available sources are provided in the list of references.