When discussing energy infrastructure and extraction, today’s word is absolutely vital. After all, none of the processing, refining, or even use of any energy can occur without first capturing the raw material. Regardless of whether we are talking about a large offshore oil and gas drilling platforms, underground coal drilling operations, or even wind turbines, energy may come from many sources, but virtually every source of energy uses a rig.
Thinking of the word rig, many of us naturally conjure up images of massive offshore oil drilling platforms; however, the word itself, in this application, simply means ‘an apparatus, device, or piece of equipment designed and used for a particular purpose.’
So, while we may think of giant platforms, we can also consider smaller and more alternative energy structures, such as wind energy turbines, hydroelectric generators, solar panels, or even hydrogen fuel cells, to be energy producing rigs as well.
In origin, our word is likely from late 15th century Scandinavian – possibly deriving from the Danish or Norwegian rigge, meaning ‘to equip’, or the Swedish rigga, meaning ‘to harness’- and pertained to the arrangement and fittings of sails, masts, etc. on a ship.
Imported with the same meaning into English in the early 1820s, the word soon found its way onto land – referring to horse-drawn vehicles in the 1830s, clothing in the 1840s, and, by the 1870s, the word started to be used for well-digging/drilling apparatus. First attested in 1875, in H. E. Wrigley’s Special Rep. Petroleum Pennsylvania: “Plan of a well rig and tools for artesian drilling..as in use at present in the Pennsylvania region”.
In a world where economies are dependent on reliable energy resources, we are not only seeing more rigs, but we are also seeing rigs in previously unviable locations. Looking at global wind power, cumulative installed capacity of rigs has more than doubled in the last 5 years and quadrupled in the last 8 years to more than 486,000 MW. Thanks to recent advances, US shale gas, which had long been thought of as not being economically viable, has grown from being 8% of US natural gas gross extraction in 2007 to being 47% in 2015, with producing rigs now numbering 300,000.
Finally, ideas once thought of as being extraordinary, such as floating offshore solar rigs and high altitude wind power, are now being reconsidered and made viable thanks to innovative rig design and advanced technologies.