Hurricane Katrina was one of the costliest and deadliest storms in U.S. history. OnAugust 23, 2005, it killed thousands of people and destroyed the lives of countless more. Katrina damaged or destroyed 30 oil platforms and caused the closure of nine refineries, according to a U.S. Department of Commerce report. The total shut-in oil production from the Gulf of Mexico in the six months after Katrina was approximately 24 percent of the annual production, and the shut-in gas production for the same period was about 18 percent, according to the same report. On Katrina’s heels came Hurricane Rita to further wallop an already “down for the count” region. The havoc wreaked by these enormous, Category 5 hurricanes still remains in some areas along the north central Gulf Coast.
Stallion™ Offshore Quarters, formerly Abbeville Offshore Quarters, was only one of many companies charged with helping clear the ruins and mend the infrastructure damages after those hurricanes. The 40-year-old company manufactures offshore living quarters that include sleepers, galleys, laundry facilities, recreation rooms, offices, and storage buildings for oil platform living.
“I didn’t think we’d ever see the light at the end of the tunnel,” says Chad Vice, Offshore Service Manager for Stallion. “The past two years have been incredibly stressful, and it’s just now starting to return to more manageable levels.” It was astonishing to learn that despite the storms’ annihilation, not one of Stallion’s buildings was destroyed. Vice says he and his crew of 30 took boats or helicopters to the platforms to repair broken doors and windows and install new buildings, but their fiberglass reinforced plastic (FRP) structureswere intact.
After the storms, Stallion’s phones rang off the hook with orders from oil companies trying to get their workforce back on the platforms. Every building in the Stallion rental fleet was claimed, and manufacturing levels doubled. “We went from having plenty of buildings available on the ground to having none,” Vice explains. “Word quickly spread that our buildings could survive that kind of force and that we had excellent service. We’ve had a lot of converts.”
When George and Emmett Putnam began building these FRP quarters in the late 1960s, quality was all they cared about. Kim Primeaux, Stallion Facility Supervisor, attributes the performance of their buildings to these two men’s unwavering commitment to quality.“Mr. George Putnam always said, ‘We won’t be the cheapest, but we’ll be the best.’”
The Putnam brothers were lumberyard owners when John Acord of The American Oil Company (Amoco and now British Petroleum) approached them with the challenge of building more durable buildings for offshore living.
“At the time, there were a few companies already making living quarters with FRP,” explains Mike Meaux, Stallion Senior Project Manager. “However, those companies didn’t have a background in construction, and their results were poor.”
The Putnams understood that just constructing a sturdy building wasn’t going to cut it. To survive the corrosive ocean environment, the buildings needed some type of marine coating. Steel is still a commonly used building material, but its weight can be a problem. Depending upon the building’s size, offshore cranes can’t always lift heavy steel buildings onto the oil platform. Using FRP presented an opportunity to eliminate that problem as well as vastly increase the life of the building. In the heart of the Louisiana Gulf Coast, Abbeville Offshore Quarters was born.
The decision to use some kind of marine coating equated to applying boat manufacturing techniques and technology to Stallion’s FRP buildings. How to do it and achieve high standards was a conundrum. The Putnams, after all, were not in the FRP manufacturing business.
“There was a huge learning curve to taking on FRP,” Vice says. “We went to many seminars on proper procedures and equipment and materials selection.” As equipment and materials have evolved over the years, Vice said, the manufacturing process has become significantly easier.
A standard building is 11 feet by 36 feet with ½-inch-thick plywood walls, a 3/8-inchthick ceiling and a ¾-inch-thick floor. A steel subfloor provides a stable lifting mechanism for the finished unit. The plywood exterior faces are sprayed with a fire resistant matrix consisting of a Hexiontm Class 2 fire resistant resin and Saint-Gobain Vetrotex gun roving. An HK Research white polyester gel coat completes the exterior finish.
Interior walls are finished with the same qualities found in homes – stained moldings,cabinets, and paneling. Vinyl flooringand comfortable furniture make the units more homelike. Data outlets and electronic hookups for computers, Direct TV, and satellite equipment are added once the unit arrives. Stallion’s goal is to make its temporary units aesthetically and functionally as close to home as possible.
The original buildings that Stallion manufactured for Amoco were bought by Amoco. It didn’t take long for the Putnams to decide to build a rental fleet for themselves. Stallion has more than 200 of these buildings in its rental fleet, which includes four-man to 12-man sleepers, galley diners that range from 8 feet by 12 feet to 11 feet by 36 feet, laundry rooms, offices, and recreational facilities. Storage buildings complete the mix. Stallion will even configure a “camp” that includes combinations of these buildings to be used in one location. There are a number of standard designs, but the oil companies have flexibility to make modifications to suit individualized needs.
Rental durations vary. In some cases, the living space needs on a platform have outgrown the permanent building spaces, resulting in “temporary” units that could be used for five or six years. Sometimes the units are only needed until the permanent buildings are finished. This is especially true in the case of campsites. Buildings are configured to be stacked, and they usually are. Fiberglass buildings are typically stacked two-high, but steel buildings can be stacked three- or four-high. Common doorways connect the modular units, and each building has a roof curb so that when they are pushed together, a stainless steel cap goes over the roofs for stability and weather protection.
Meaux says Stallion still has composite buildings in its fleet from 1978. “The external skins are still good,” he says. “We refurbish and update the interiors, but that’s all we need to do. It really reinforces the Putnams’ commitment to quality.”
Katrina and Rita forced the hands of many who were still just thinking about remodeling or expanding their businesses. Stallion Offshore Quarters was no different. In Abbeville, the Putnams’ old lumberyard on Jacqueline Street sat vacant for years. Stallion management had just begun planning a significant expansion there when the 2005 hurricane season arrived. At the time, Stallion could only build 30 or 40 units annually and no more than two or three at a time, depending upon their size. It wasn’t enough. “Between the product demands after the hurricanes and the company’s plans for a more global presence, we wasted no time completing that expansion,” Meaux says.
It wasn’t just the facility, however, that got renovated. Primeaux worked with NAC sales representative Ed Swain to evaluate materials, processes, and equipment for the company. “Stallion’s issues weren’t atypical of many manufacturers,” Swain says. “However, Kim had a strong desire to clear up some nagging issues once and for all.”
Swain says Stallion’s resin choice was appropriate but issues with particulate settlement and difficult spraying needed to be solved. GlasCraft impingement spray equipment made dramatic improvements in spray patterns and consistency. Swain says he’s had great luck across the board with theseinternal mix guns, which also are designed for low emissions and reduce overspray with their resulting part repair costs. Stallion’s manufacturing levels are low enough that they aren’t required to use low HAP resins and gel coats, but the company also updated its ventilation system to improve air quality on the manufacturing floor.
“Then we looked at their resin handling issues and made adjustments based on ambient temperatures [indoors and outdoors], resin storage, seasonal influences, and drum agitation requirements,” says Swain. The solutions Swain recommended were a combination of those taught through the American Composites Manufacturing Association’s Certified Composites Technician (CCT) training program and procedures specific to Stallion’s operation.
“Frequently I talk with employees who haven’t been properly or regularly trained on the equipment or materials they’re using,” Swain explains. “If an employee doesn’t understand why they are doing what they are doing, how will a manufacturer get them to care whether they do it properly and consistently? Employee training is critical.”
Swain adds that he and all of NAC’s sales representatives provide training and retraining services to all its customers. “Stallion Offshore can rely on us to stay current on materials and equipment. It takes the burden off of them to be the experts and leaves it with us.”
Stallion Offshore’s headquarters remain at Abbeville, Louisiana, where waterfront access is used to ship its heavy steel-fabricated buildings and large, two-story FRP buildings that cannot be shipped via truck.
The company’s acquisition in 2006 by Stallion Oilfield Services Ltd. of Houston, Texas, presents significant business opportunities. “The connections and services that Stallion Oilfield Services brings have already created new markets for us,” Meaux explains. “Our sales teams have joined forces, and we are already doing work in Trinidad and Holland.” Opportunities are also surfacing in Mexico, Africa, and some areas in the Middle East. Stallion Oilfield Services’ marketing and financial resources are proving to be tremendous assets, as well.
Each of Stallion Offshore Quarters’ core employees has more than 20 years of experience. About 150 employees work for the company, which Vice says has very low turnover. “Our employees believe in what they do,” he says. “They have pride in building a good product, and everyone is encouraged to contribute their ideas to help improve the company.”