GOM Offshore Industries Prepared?

damaged rig

Published Aug 25, 2015 3:58 PM by The Maritime Executive

Hurricane Katrina destroyed more than 113 platforms and 457 pipelines when the storm devastated the U.S. Gulf of Mexico almost a decade ago. With Katrina’s ten year anniversary approaching, many wonder if the region is better equipped to handle Category 5 hurricanes or mega storms.

Katrina’s destructive forces annihilated the coastal regions and the New Orleans levee system as well as the industrial base including the oil industry, which estimates that more than nine million gallons of hydrocarbon product were lost in the environment.

In May 2006, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) published a pipeline damage assessment report that stated that 101 of the damaged lines sustained gashes at least 10 inches in diameter and about 18,000 barrels were lost. The US Coast Guard considers any spill larger than 2,500 barrels a major spill.

Prior to Katrina, about ten percent of U.S. crude and nearly half of the gasoline refined came from GOM production. The price of oil and gasoline skyrocketed as countless rigs were either destroyed and refineries dealt with power outages. In 2005, Port Fourchon handled about 16 percent of the nation’s crude oil and natural gas supply. Port authorities said that nearly $500 billion of gas and oil could not be transported out of the region.

Today, the GOM offshore oil production accounts for 17 percent of U.S. crude production and 45 percent of refining capacity. And it is clear that the recovery from Katrina has been completed.

Regulators say the 2005 hurricanes prompted stringent platform design standards and that meteorological data warning advancements have improved safety.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) launched design guidelines and raised the minimum height requirement to at least 91 feet above sea level. API also developed enhanced guidelines for tying down rig equipment.

Today, standards require rigs and platforms be moored to the ocean floor and that rigs be equipped with GPS sensors for structure break notification during storms.

But, environmentalist question how prepared the oil and gas industry is for another category five storm at the level of Hurricanes Katrina or Rita. They also claim that the industry is reactive versus proactive regarding potential disasters.  Global warming, rising sea levels and eroding coastlines are another reason observers remain skeptical about the industry’s preparedness.