Oil Slick

The oil industry-sponsored Ocean Star strikes an "enviro-friendly" theme.

It's impossible to overstate our dependence on oil. Not only does it fuel the cars we drive, but its derivatives are used to make everything from plastics to underarm deodorant. How much we're willing to sacrifice to keep it cheap and plentiful is one of the major issues of the day. Establishing a museum devoted to the former offshore drilling rig Ocean Star is a potentially worthwhile endeavor.

Energy leaders first founded the nonprofit organization responsible for the attraction, and the plaques of appreciation to the funders inside the converted mobile platform are a virtual who's who of the industry. The mission statement shows their money was well spent: "The Offshore Energy Center is dedicated to expand the awareness of the vast energy resources beneath the world's oceans, and to chronicle the…technological accomplishments of the industry that discovers, produces and delivers these resources in a safe and environmentally responsible way."

In the introductory film, an informative description of oil's origins is immediately followed by a disclaimer of how petroleum "naturally" seeps into the ocean and washes up on shore as some of the tar balls you may see along Gulf beaches. Other, more obvious, sources of these oil slicks are never mentioned. Another display makes much of the "Rigs to Reef" program, which allows companies to save money by leaving platforms in the ocean so that barnacles and other wildlife that have attached themselves to the legs remain undisturbed.


The Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum

20th Street and Harborside Drive in Galveston

Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Labor Day. $5; $4 for seniors and students; free for children under seven. (409)766-STAR or visit www.oceanstaroec.com

The "Passport to Petroleum" booklet handed out to visiting children includes an illustrated game in which kids help a stranded starfish through a maze of girders. "Many animals love to make their homes on and around the platforms in the Gulf," the instructions read. "Help the starfish find its way down the jacket to its friends!" The museum's new education director, Misty Yarotsky, plans to take this industry spin directly to schools, joining a long list of other corporate-sponsored tutorials.

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Confined to the museum, one would never know that offshore drilling was controversial, let alone that any concerns have been expressed by groups like the Gulf Coast Environmental Defense, which cites the typical discharge of petroleum, chemicals and other waste from an average shallow well hovers around 6,500 barrels (a deep well closer to 13,000).

According to the code of ethics for the American Association of Museums, where Ocean Star is applying for accreditation, a museum is to make a "unique contribution to the public by collecting, preserving and interpreting things of this world" and "to advance knowledge and nourish the human spirit." But the association is uncomfortable making judgments as to the scientific or historical accuracy of the museums that apply, and tends to rely on more verifiable criteria such as whether the facilities are well kept and closely adhere to their mission statement. So far, one of the few suggestions for improvement the AAM has given Ocean Star is to print some guidebooks.

In the museum, kids can learn some worthwhile information about geological formations and the process of drilling. As for the other stuff, parents will just have to decide for themselves about the value.

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