May 11, 2010 / 9:24 PM / 9 years ago

TV series shows hazards of underwater oil work

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Deep sea divers who pull apart oil wells are getting the documentary TV treatment, and their hazardous job brings home a lesson now playing out in the Gulf of Mexico — expect the unexpected.

National Geographic Channel next week will air “Delta Divers,” which by chance comes as experts in the Gulf of Mexico try to plug a ruptured underwater well threatening massive damage along the U.S. coast.

The creators of the series told Reuters on Tuesday the divers they profile work at much shallower depths than the spewing well, which is about a mile underwater.

But they said lessons from the series apply to the ongoing containment efforts in the Gulf of Mexico, where BP over the weekend tried and failed to cover the oil well with a huge metal box.

“All the best laid plans go awry when you’re out in the water,” said Scott B, who produced, wrote and directed “Delta Divers,” which debuts on May 19. He said his last name is a holdover from his days as a punk filmmaker.

“Everything you do, when you’re under an immense amount of water, is very tricky. It’s like another world,” he said.

The “Delta Divers” work for subcontractors to oil companies, and generally are hired for routine work rather than emergencies.

In one storyline, a team of divers works 125 miles out to sea to plug an aging oil well 300 feet below. They must snake an explosive charge into the well to cut its pipes and later plug them with concrete.

But they hit problems, starting with mysterious bubbles that could carry potentially toxic gases that could kill a diver, a suspicion that is borne out later by tests.

But the divers persevere. They stay clear of the bubbles and manage to stop up the well, and leave the ocean floor almost spotless when they leave.

A diver can earn more than $1,500 a day, and the deeper they go the more they make.

In another storyline, divers are sent to disassemble a giant oil rig that was toppled by a hurricane. They wrestle powerful underwater currents as they cut at the rig’s metal supports and seek to avoid the threat of an underwater explosion from the buildup of gases.

Sandra Guthrie, a producer on “Delta Divers,” said the barges where the crews work is a world unto itself.

“It is the frontier and there are elements of it that seem like the Wild West, because of the unpredictability and the harshness,” Guthrie said. “But at the same time, we witnessed enormous concern for the environment as well.”

National Geographic Channel is partly owned by News Corp.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Jill Serjeant

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