Unfortunately the major events in one’s life do not happen in an orderly sequence, so now I have to back up to1978 and tell you about another series of events.
The Rosenstiel School belonged to a number of other organizations. We were a member of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute, so as Dean I was put on their Board. I learned a lot about Fisheries, and met the man who had figured how to peel shrimp using a device with mechanical rollers. It peeled the shrimp the same way he had done it with his toes, when he was peeling them for himself on a Shrimper Boat.
We also belonged to the Gulf Universities Research Consortium which had its headquarters in Houston. I didn’t know of anything we actually did with GURC, but one day in 1978 Jim Sharp, its President, showed up at my office in Miami. He knew that the DSDP would end in a few years and that guessed that it might be looking for a new vessel to replace the GLOMAR Challenger. He wanted me to come to Dallas to talk with an official of another company that might like to bid on the operations contract. He assured me that it would be a very interesting meeting.
A couple of weeks later I was in Dallas at the offices of South East Drilling Company (SEDCO) to meet with Dillard Hammett. The SEDCO offices were in an old renovated School Building. Dillard was a Dallas history buff, and when he found out it was my home town he asked if I was any relation to the Stephen J Hay who had been mayor. I explained that I was his grandson. The furnishings of much of SEDCO’s offices were antiques from the Stephen J. Hay School that had recently been closed.
It was one of the strangest meetings I have ever had in my life. For the first part of the meeting he had a telephone to his ear. He was also negotiating with a shipyard in Singapore over the construction of a new drilling vessel. They would come up with a number, and he would have a question that sent them back to the drawing board to make new calculations. Rather than to try to place the call again, he just hung on the phone waiting for their answer.
In the meantime he explained that SEDCO was a leader in the offshore drilling business and would like to bid on any new contract for scientific drilling. He showed me pictures of their vessels and discussed the technology they had developed, including risers. I explained that a new program was several years off but that if I had anything to do with it I would certainly see to it that SEDCO could bid on the contract—along with any other companies that wanted to, of course.
Now back to the riots in Miami. That weekend of May17, 1980 and for the next few days whole blocks of the city were burned, and it wasn’t just near Liberty City and the northern area. In the evenings I used my view over Key Biscayne from my26th floor condominium to spot fires being set on our island. I would call the fire department to report them. By late May real estate prices had dropped precipitously in Miami, and I realized I would be unable to sell my condo and buy a place in Washington.
So I decided to live at the Cosmos Club until things in Miami returned to normal. I had become a member of the Cosmos Club while I was at the University of Illinois, and had stayed there on visits to the city. The Cosmos Club is a private social club. It was founded by John Wesley Powell in1878. Powell was the geologist/explorer who had led he first party through the Grand Canyon in1869. Its members have interests in science, literature and art. For a long time the Club was located on Lafayette Square across from the White House, but in1952 moved to a mansion at2121 Massachusetts Avenue near Dupont Circle. That part of Massachusetts Avenue is sometimes called ‘Embassy Row’. The public rooms are quite grand. The accommodations for members are in contrast quite Spartan. My travel schedule was such that I was rarely in Washington for more than a few days at a time, so I would check out, leave my tings in the storage room, and check in again a few days later. While there I would go out for dinner at one of the many restaurants nearby, but first have a cocktail in the lounge. Many distinguished academics and scientists stayed at the Cosmos Club on visits to Washington, and it was a great place to meet people. One would see famous newsmen informally interviewing politicians at lunch.
The Ocean Margin Drilling Program with industry was always touch and go. The NSF and industry set up a pool of about$16 million to prepare a series of Atlases of the geology of the US continental margins and to carry out engineering studies. The atlases were produced through contracts to the oceanographic institutions and were compilations of all the existing knowledge in the public domain, and sometimes what had been proprietary information from industry. The engineering studies were contracted out to Santa Fe International’s offices in Houston.
Although I was nominally President, JOI’s day-to-day operations were carried of by John ‘Jack’ Clotworthy. Jack had been Bob White’s Director of Congressional Affairs at NOAA but had moved over to JOI with him. Jack stayed on with JOI after Bob left. Jack had plenty of experience in dealing with the Congress and science contracting, areas in which I had none. We made a good team, and I was able to be on the road most of the time cultivating our industry participants and performing the important function of liaison with our JOIDES partners. I would attend both the Planning and Executive Committees to keep them informed. It was clear to me that the overwhelming majority of the academic science community had little interest in exploring the petroleum potential of our continental margins. And some of them already knew something industry didn’t seem to know: the Atlantic margin did not have the source rocks that would generate petroleum. The organic carbon buried in sediments of the Atlantic margin would generate gas but not oil. And the California margin was already producing. The Oregon and Washington margins did not have enough sediment to harbor significant resources. The international partners were hanging on in the hope that the industrial initiative would collapse and we could continue to learn about our planet’s history. Many of my friends thought I was a traitor, but they were unaware of the threat that there would be no future program at all if we did not explore the OSTP’s initiative.
Then came another unexpected surprise. We were offered a ship that, if refitted, could carry out riser drilling, the GLOMAR Explorer. The story of the GLOMAR Explorer is the stuff fantasy films are made of. To make a long, complex story short, here is what happened. In April1968, a Soviet submarine, theK-129, was lost in4.8 km(3 miles) of water north of the Hawaiian Islands. Aboard it was the code book for encoding messages between the submarine and the Soviet Admiralty and several nuclear missiles. Our Central Intelligence Agency wanted that device, and devised a subterfuge to get it. The eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes owned Global Marine Development, Inc, which built offshore drill rigs and drill ships. The CIA secretly paid Hughes about$350 million for the construction of the gigantic GLOMAR Explorer. It was supposedly going to mine manganese nodules from the sea floor. Manganese nodules grow very slowly on the sea floor where the sediment accumulation rates are low. The real goal of the GLOMAR Explorer was to recover the submarine and its contents. A salvage operation of this magnitude had ever been carried out before. Now the story gets more interesting. No one in the metal business could understand why Hughes would go to such an expense to mine manganese nodules from the sea floor. There is plenty of manganese available cheaply from sources on land. The rumor was that manganese nodules contained other metals that were far more valuable but had been overlooked in chemical analyses. Soviet ocean scientists figured that if Howard Hughes was building such a huge ship to harvest them, there must be something about them they didn’t know. They began a program of systematically photographing the floor of the Pacific Ocean to determine where the highest concentrations of the nodules were. The data archive they produced is a modern treasure. American scientists realized that if both Howard Hughes and the Soviets knew something about manganese nodules we didn’t, we had better find out what it was. Through the NSF the US launched a major multi-institutional program of investigating manganese nodules. Nothing about the GLOMAR Explorer really made sense. But the ship was a marvel of engineering. Like other drillships it had a derrick, but one much sturdier and taller than any other ship. Furthermore, the derrick rested on four huge ball bearings so it would stay vertical as the ship rolled and pitched in the sea. Instead of a giant vacuum cleaner-like tube to the sea floor, the Explorer had a drill string made of what were essentially cannon barrels screwed together. The heart of the operation was a giant grapple the size of the submarine, designed to enclose it and allow it to be brought to the surface. From the Explorer’s location and the nature of the operations, the Soviets soon figured out what it was after and changed their encoding system. It is known that the grapple failed at a critical time, and most of the submarine was lost, but we do not know what was actually recovered (although, presumably, the CIA does). We visited the Glomar Explorer at its anchorage in Suisun Bay east of San Francisco. It is very impressive, even though its derrick has been removed. SEDCO prepared estimates on the cost of conversion for continental margin drilling. They were about the same as constructing a new ship, but its operating costs would have been much greater. We had looked the gift horse in the mouth and didn’t like what we saw.
In November1980 Ronald Reagan was elected President. One of his first actions was to cancel the energy conservation initiatives Jimmy Carter had started. The solar panels n the roof of the White House survived until 1986, but the tax breaks for wind turbines and other renewable energy resources were rescinded. He encouraged Americans indulge themselves by buying big low-mileage cars that would support our petroleum industry, although the oil they were producing and selling was mostly from foreign sources.
Reagan appointed Michel T. Halbouty to be interim Secretary of Energy. Mike Halbouty was a legend in the petroleum industry. He was a not-so-small independent and a strong believer that the competition of the free-enterprise system was what had made the US petroleum industry great. Originally from Lebanon, he had received his advanced education at Texas A & M, and Mike was Texan through and through. I already knew him casually through the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. I went to see him in his new office in the Energy Department and made my presentation about the proposed academic-industry Ocean Margin Drilling Program. He listened intently and it seemed he might wish to recommend it to President Reagan. He would later change his mind.