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Oil Platform Designed to Survive the Worst

The Hibernia oil platform in the North Atlantic is 189 miles (315 kilometers) east-southeast of St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada. The total structure, from the ocean floor to the top of the derrick, is 738 feet high and cost over $6 billion to build.

Unlike the fated Ocean Ranger, a platform that sank in 1982 with all 84 men aboard lost at sea, the Hibernia's design incorporates a GBS (gravity based structure) which anchors it to the seabed. It is fastened to the ocean floor in 265 feet of water.

The structure does not move. It is stationary because it sits in the middle of "iceberg alley," where icebergs can be as large as ocean liners. Sixteen huge concrete teeth surround the Hibernia. These teeth were an expensive addition, designed to distribute the force of an iceberg over the entire structure and into the seabed, should one ever get close.

Hibernia's owners take no chances. Radio operators plot and monitor all icebergs within 27 miles (45 kilometers). Any that come close are "lassoed" and towed away from the platform by powerful supply ships. Smaller ones are simply diverted using the ship's high-pressure water cannons or with propeller wash. As rugged and as strong as this platform is, and as prepared as it is for icebergs to strike it, the owners have no intention of allowing an iceberg to even come close.

But the big one will come, and Hibernia is designed accordingly. It is built to withstand a million ton iceberg, with designers claiming it can actually withstand a 6 million ton iceberg with reparable damage.

What's amazing is that a million-ton iceberg is expected only once every 500 years. One as large as 6-million-tons comes around once every 10,000 years.

That's what I call preparation and vigilance.

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