Let me just say first that I am not an early riser. But how often does one get the opportunity to fly out into the Gulf of Mexico and land on an oil platform?
That's how I spent most of my day yesterday -- up at 5 a.m. and straight to a waiting chopper with some folks from Shell Oil.
Shell has about six deepwater floating oil platforms in the Gulf, including one called the MARS platform, which was the biggest oil producer in the Gulf before Hurricane Katrina. The storm caused MARS' daily production to drop from 140,000 barrels of oil to zero.
We had hoped to visit MARS yesterday, but we couldn't because it had just started producing oil and natural gas again. While an estimated 15 percent of the Gulf's oil rigs are still down, the MARS rig is expected to be at full production in June.
Shell says it has spent nearly $300 million on Gulf recovery because it believes there are at least 71 billion gallons of oil out there waiting to be drilled.
With MARS off-limits, we toured the similar Ram Powell oil platform instead. It was humbling to stand on this structure, which is about the size of a football field. The oil rig that is clamped to the platform weighs as much as two 747 airplanes.
While walking around the rig we had to wear hard hats, safety glasses and steel-tipped shoes. And the stairs -- oh my! There's no elevator, so getting around is a workout.
Here's something that surprised us -- Shell wanted to periodically test the camera we were using to shoot this story. They were afraid the camera could give off a spark and cause a fire as it mixed with the gases in the air. So they monitored the camera and the gases as we walked around the platform.
We spent about an hour touring the rig and then climbed back aboard our helicopter for the hour-long flight back to dry land.