I don’t have any experience with the oil industry in the Gulf coast, but generally, getting access to rigs is very hard. Mostly because it’s quite expensive for the oil companies to have people messing around on the rigs — at least based on my experience from visiting a rig in the Norgweian sea. For instance, if you want to stroll about on the rig, you’ll have to be accompanied by people with gas detectors at all times. The helicopter flight out to the rig will of course also be very, very expensive. In theory, at least here in Norway, everyone visiting oil rigs are also required to go through extensive and expensive safety training, such as that thing with a mock-up helicopter being lowered into a swimming pool to simulate evacuation after an emergency landing, and so on.
I’m absolutely not saying it can’t be done, but either you must have a very very large budget, or you’ll have to convince the operator of the rig that there is something in this for them too. Have you tried simply approaching a PR person, offering to give them pictures of the rig in return, if they give you access? It might be a very long shot, but who knows … I have managed to get into a few strange places using that method! Of course, you’d need a quite good portfolio with industrial/commercial photography to pull that off.
If this is a long-term project, maybe you could start off by for instance joining a supply ship heading for a rig? Probably far less safety stuff to worry about, and it could be a very good starting point to get useful contacts. Might also get you some useful footage for your project? Just a thought.
I once got very lucky and was allowed to go to a rig as part of a 12-person group. I was later informed that the whole shebang, including helicopter flights and sending workers specifically to guite us around, had cost the oil company around USD 150000 …
Anyway, good luck with the project! If you get onto a rig, I can guarantee that it will be fascinating experience!