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What’s up with that? Alaskan oil rigs turn blue on Vancouver waterfront

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 31, 2011, 5:00pm

We live just east of Fort Vancouver. Last summer, as we looked southeast toward the old Kaiser shipyards, we saw a tall brown tower being built. It is gone, and now there are two very large blue rectangles on the horizon. Both were lying on their long sides, at a 45-degree angle. Now the eastern one has been tipped up. What are they? What company is building these?

— Dolly Merrick

The culprit is Thompson Metal Fab Inc., and those big blue towers that seem to move up and down are arctic oil rigs. They’re going to the North Slope of Alaska, where owner Parker Drilling of Houston will use them to drill for oil.

Those distinctive blue walls around the rigs are called wind walls, Thompson President John Rudi said, and they’re there to protect the rigs from extreme weather and subzero temperatures.

“A lot of rigs you see in the lower 48 don’t have those wind walls, because they’re not needed for inclement weather,” he said. The eye-catching shade of blue is Parker Drilling’s official color.

The rigs are valued at $200 million. Each rig is composed of three separate modules that weigh 1.5 million pounds apiece, Rudi said. Construction has taken about two years and put 300 people to work. The rigs will head for Alaska in mid-July.

“They’ll make the journey up there and as soon as ice fields clear, sometime in August, they’ll land and start getting ready for commissioning on the North Slope,” Rudi said.

Got a question about your neighborhood? We’ll get it answered. Send “What’s Up With That?” questions to neighbors@columbian.com.