Lee Brasted, class of '62
In Lee's 32 year career with Shell Offshore, a Shell Oil subsidiary, the 1962 Alfred graduate played key roles in designing offshore drilling platforms from California to the Gulf of Mexico and from the North Sea to the South China Sea. While the location of the oil and our growing need for its products are easy enough to understand, almost everything else about Lee's work with Shell requires a little explanation, including the slightly unusual career path he took on the way to Shell. The truth is Lee Brasted and the world of engineering almost missed connecting entirely. Growing up on a poultry farm outside of Hornell, led to Lee's enrolling in poultry science at the NYS College of Agriculture at Cornell University. Two years later, degree in hand, Brasted was "working for very low pay" on a poultry farm near Penn Yan, and experiencing doubts about his career choice. A chance visit to Erie, PA, where he met a successful engineer, convinced Brasted that some field of engineering was the place to be. As he tells it, "Since Alfred offered the industrial technology course which would pave the way to several possible degrees, the cost was very low, and I could commute from home, Alfred was the logical choice." He enrolled at Alfred State in the fall of 1960.
After his AS degree from Alfred, Lee earned a BS in civil engineering from Bucknell in 1964. Following an NSF Summer fellowship at Duke, he began graduate studies in structural engineering at University of Illinois, Urbana. During that winter, he was thinking of dropping out of the masters program to work for a local consulting company. While he weighed his decision, his father got George Whitney, one of Lee's professors, to write and encourage the young engineer to continue his graduate work. Whitney's letter worked, Lee earned his MS in structural engineering in 1965, and that August, he began what would become over 32 years with Shell Oil. Lee reported to work in Midland, TX, but within a year he was transferred to Shell's Head Office, Construction Design Group in New Orleans. In his words, "This unique group of engineers was responsible for the design, fabrication and installation of platforms for drilling and producing offshore oil fields."
When Lee joined Shell Offshore, America's thirst for oil had grown tremendously, in large part the result of a healthy post-war economy. And in response, offshore drilling had reached nearly 250 feet in depth. By 1978, Shell Offshore's drilling platform Cognac stood in 1,025 feet of water, earning Shell the American Society of Civil Engineers' Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award the following year. But for Lee, who by then had assumed supervisory and management responsibilities in engineering at Shell Offshore, even greater challenges lay just ahead.
Most of us smile when we hear the name Bullwinkle or see the humorous cartoon character in Macy's Thanksgiving parade. Lee Brasted smiles when he talks about Bullwinkle, but it has nothing to do with the cartoon moose we all know. The explanation is simple: From 1984 until 1987, Lee was engineering design supervisor of Shell Offshore's Bullwinkle Project, a $500 million effort that resulted in a drilling platform of truly amazing dimensions. Located in over 1,300 feet of water about 150 miles southwest of New Orleans, the Bullwinkle platform, overall, is taller than the Sears Tower. The Bullwinkle platform, which produced 44,000 barrels of oil and 100 million cubic feet of gas per day at its peak, earned Shell its second ASCE Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award.
As early as the design stages of Bullwinkle, Shell engineers believed the extremely tall structure was nearing the economic and practical limits for a conventional, bottom-supported drilling platform. Impressed with the success of Bullwinkle, Shell Offshore named Lee manager of the Floating System Group in 1987. The group developed the TLP (tension leg platform), an entirely new system for recovering oil and gas from below the ocean floor.
In 1993, Shell Offshore installed the Auger TLP in nearly 3,000 feet of water, earning the company an unprecedented third OCEA award. By the end of 1998, TLPs designed under Brasted's tenure were recovering oil from wells nearly 4,000 feet beneath the ocean's surface. In the three years prior to his retirement, Lee managed the design, drafting, and product scheduling for all of Shell Offshore's drilling production platform products worldwide.
It is true Alfred wasn't Lee Brasted's first choice for college. And, to be fair, the Hornell native probably would have made his mark in agriculture, had he stayed in that field. But there's no denying that the day Lee Brasted chose Alfred, he took the first steps toward an outstanding career as a truly world-class engineer.