Offshore oil and gas attention adapts, though risks sojourn 10 years after Katrina

August 19, 2015 - storage organizer

Chris Steinmetz, ubiquitous manager of Versabar in New Orleans, has a prolonged and a brief answer when asked what it takes to drag a 1,000-ton oil and gas tallness from a bottom of a Gulf of Mexico. He prefers a brief answer: a heck of a lot of engineering.

Versabar got a start in 1981, renting apparatus for offshore construction. After Hurricane Katrina, a association was on a front lines of a oil patch cleanup. The drop was on a turn even attention veterans had not seen, Steinmetz said.

According to supervision data, Katrina broken 46 platforms and shop-worn 100 pipelines in Aug 2005. Massive waves sunk whole platforms and snapped seabed anchors. Hurricane Rita dealt a second blow reduction than a month later.

Back then, a attention prepared for a “100-year storm,” Steinmetz said, that has a 1 percent probability of attack in any given year. Storm swell from Katrina was that of a most stronger 400-year charge when it strike a Mississippi coast.

“Katrina and Rita redefined what a 100-year charge was,” Steinmetz said. “It redefined what a charge could do.”

Federal regulators and a oil and gas attention are discerning to note no lives were mislaid or vital spills reported offshore during Katrina notwithstanding a destruction. Environmental groups continue to plea a brief claim, observant it airbrushes a impact of hundreds of smaller available spills.

Ten years later, regulators and attention contend worse settlement standards and softened meteorological information have vastly softened whirly reserve offshore. Efforts to mislay unsure older, new offshore structures are relocating forward, yet slowly.

Safety experts and environmental advocates are doubtful a attention is prepared for a subsequent vast storm. They contend companies still have too most option in determining when they close down operations. Instead of drafting manners that lift operators to ready for worst-case storms, critics contend regulators continue to be conservative and heavily contingent on attention guidance.

Storms force refurbish for supply standards

Federal regulators guess some-more than 3,000 of a 4,000 platforms in a Gulf in 2005 were in a proceed paths of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, any of that halted prolongation for weeks.

Together, a storms shop-worn 457 pipelines and broken some-more than 100 platforms. About 20 mobile drilling rigs gifted sum failure, including scarcely a dozen newer semi-submersible floating drilling units.

Lars Herbst, executive of a Gulf of Mexico segment for a sovereign Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, pronounced efforts to renovate offshore standards for some-more serious storms began after Hurricane Ivan in 2004, yet Katrina and Rita accelerated a process.

Today, Herbst pronounced offshore platforms and pipelines are built to withstand aloft waves, and stronger breeze and currents, and new standards for rigs and platforms moored to a sea building aim to forestall a form of problems seen during Katrina and Rita.

Versabar Inc.’s “Bottom Feeder” vessel removes a defeated tallness from a Gulf of Mexico in Jul 2008. The association designed a Bottom Feeder after Hurricane Katrina in sequence to redeem platforms from a sea building in a singular piece. Recovering offshore structures stays a vast apportionment of Versabar’s work 10 years after Katrina. (Versabar Inc.)

Inspectors examination how seabed soil, call strength and other factors impact grapnel systems before commendatory settlement plans, he said. Moored rigs contingency also be versed with battery-powered GPS sensors that concede regulators to detect if a structure breaks giveaway during a storm.

 “If it’s moving, we can guard it,” Herbst said.

Standards for how high and how clever offshore oil and gas structures should be have been a relocating aim for a past century. Platforms built in a 1940s had rug heights 20 to 40 feet above sea level. By a 1990s, a 100-year charge call settlement pattern customary had risen to some-more than 70 feet.

After Katrina and Rita, a American Petroleum Institute expelled hundreds of pages of new settlement standards, including lifting a 100-year call settlement tallness to 91 feet. The organisation grown stronger discipline for restraining down derricks, compressors and other tallness facilities influenced by charge winds. Government regulations drew heavily on these standards.

David Miller, executive of standards for a American Petroleum Institute, pronounced softened oceanographic information uncover storms feature in warm, low waters and in specific Gulf loop currents. Miller pronounced API settlement standards now change depending on where a structure is in a Gulf, something that did not occur before Katrina.

“We schooled we indispensable to demeanour during a Gulf as most some-more formidable ecosystem,” he said.

Miller pronounced a attention is bettering and some-more prepared than it has ever been. “Standards are constantly being revised as we learn some-more from operations,” Miller said.

Industry ‘reactive, not proactive’

Despite new standards, storms continue to bluster offshore structures. In 2008, Hurricanes Ike and Gustav broken 60 oil and gas platforms. Hurricane Isaac in 2012, a slow-moving, rain-heavy Category 1 system, did tiny mistreat offshore, yet flooding from a charge carried and overturned vast oil storage tanks inland.

Robert Bea, a late engineering-risk highbrow during a University of California during Berkeley, pronounced any whirly given has suggested a settlement — attention and regulators are reacting to storms, not scheming for them.

Toppled oil storage tanks circuitously a city of Lafitte after Hurricane Isaac in 2012. The tanks defeated off of their foundations and into a water, causing oil to brief into circuitously wetlands. (Photo by Jonathan Henderson, Gulf Restoration Network)

Bea worked as a Shell executive overseeing offshore platforms during Hurricane Betsy in 1965. Shell’s platforms survived, yet he recalls reports of drilling rigs flapping and crashing into structures. He remarkable a same reports circulated after Katrina.

Bea pronounced regulations and standards in a Gulf of Mexico are directed during preventing past failures from function again. Few manners lift operators to actively make skeleton for a next, constantly stronger storm, he said.

“It’s called watchful for a subsequent failure,” Bea said. “It’s being reactive, not proactive.”

Bea forked to a North Sea for an instance of a opposite approach. The attention there deals frequently with fierce, fast-forming storms. Most North Sea platforms are designed to keep crews protected during storms. Many have a ability to rouse decks to withstand waves 100 feet high or more. Bea pronounced such structures can and do exist in a Gulf of Mexico, yet they cost some-more to build.

In many ways, Bea pronounced reserve is a financial calculus. He fears attention is creation a wrong calculation.

Bea remarkable oil and gas companies make a call on when to close down operations before a storm, a conditions that increases a risk distinction is put before safety.

Past storms uncover idle platforms and pipelines and new wells can poise a risk. Bea remarkable many companies check dismissal for as prolonged as probable given of cost.

Shortly after a BP oil spill, a Obama administration vowed to lift operators to fast block deserted wells and idle aged platforms, famous as a “Idle Iron” program.

The Associated Press reported in Jul the series of new wells in a Gulf has indeed increasing given 2010, with scarcely 14 percent of some 27,000 wells left with proxy seals for extended durations of time, infrequently some-more than a year. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement told a AP a group is creation swell on a idea to henceforth block new wells.

Environmental advocates contend a risks during storms are huge. Many indicate to Taylor Energy’s Mississippi Canyon 20-A platform, a newer structure that worked 550 feet above dual dozen producing wells off a Louisiana seashore until Hurricane Ivan broken it in 2004. The disadvantage was removed, yet oil continues to trickle from a site to this day notwithstanding attention efforts to stop it.

Oil leaks from an oil storage and send trickery in Barataria Bay after Hurricane Isaac in 2012. (Photo by Jonathan Henderson, Gulf Restoration Network)

Jonathan Henderson, coastal resiliency organizer with a Gulf Coast Restoration Network, has logged 200 flights watching a impact oil and gas activity has on a Louisiana seashore over a past 5 years. He pronounced leaks, spills and defeated oil storage tanks sojourn a norm, even after comparatively diseased storms such as Isaac in 2012.

“I’m positively shocked of a awaiting of another Category 5 charge hitting,” Henderson said.

No vital oil wickedness occurred as a outcome of a drop after Hurricane Katrina, yet there were some-more than 100 “minor” incidents recorded, according to Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement data. Spills that do not strech a seashore and recover reduction than 500 barrels of oil are deliberate minor.

Henderson pronounced a impact of offshore failures will wear with rising sea levels and an eroding coast. He combined a 2010 BP oil brief lifted another grave question: What happens if a Category 5 charge hits while a association is perplexing to enclose a vital oil good blowout offshore?

Few people inside or outward attention are articulate about such a scenario, most reduction scheming for it, he said.

“The hazard competence seem surreal, yet it’s really most a probability and nobody is formulation for it,” Henderson said. “That to me is unacceptable.”

Lessons schooled from storms

Every day scarcely 10,000 people arise adult on a tallness or a drilling supply in a Gulf of Mexico and go to work. The oil and gas attention says a priority is gripping those people and a places they work protected — generally as some-more visit and stronger storms turn reality.

Phil Smith, ubiquitous manager of puncture government and deepwater law for Shell in a Americas, oversees a group of about 80 association leaders who accommodate frequently to devise how to leave workers, secure operations and muster boats, helicopters and other resources for a storm. Smith pronounced Shell considers a cost of shutting down oil production, yet reserve is a priority.

“If there is conjecture or some doubt about safety, we don’t take those kind of chances,” Smith said. “It’s only not value it to us.”

Shell evacuated some-more than 2,000 employees and contractors operative offshore before Katrina and Rita. The association spent some-more than $300 million repair Gulf infrastructure after a storms, including repairs to a Mars tallness where a storms defeated a latticework lift and tore detached a supply floor. The underwater structure survived undamaged, and Mars returned to prolongation in Jun 2006.

A decade later, Smith pronounced whirly formulation is ongoing. In further to settlement changes, Mars stirred a association to revisit whirly checklists for crews, for example, detailing stairs for restraining down tallness features, he said. The association uses an algorithm to muster helicopters and other travel efficiently. Shell’s onshore charge bottom in Tangipahoa Parish was reinforced to keep appetite regulating during clever storms.

As Shell drills over offshore, depletion timelines have stretched from a few days to a week or more, Smith said. He pronounced Shell’s concentration is returning offshore as fast as safely as probable after a storm, rather than perplexing to see how distant it can float a charge out.

“That competence dissapoint investors or whoever, yet that’s a approach it has to go,” Smith said.

Herbst pronounced a Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement continues to work with attention to rise standards not only for conceptualizing structures, yet for inspecting structures after a storm. He pronounced it is probable for sovereign regulators to both learn from attention and defend reserve expectations.

“If we consider it’s a diseased standard, we will not incorporate it during all,” Herbst said.

Technology is also changing. Miller with a American Petroleum Institute remarkable complicated rigs stay in place regulating electronic energetic positioning systems, rather than grapnel systems that bond to a seafloor. With adequate notice, a supply can cruise out of a trail of a storm, he said.

Low oil prices could lift risk

If offshore reserve is an mercantile calculus, a pointy downturn in oil prices will impact how a attention prepares for a subsequent hurricane. Oil prices fell to a six-year low this month, down from scarcely $100 per tub final summer to $42.23 during Aug. 13 trading.

A far-reaching operation of appetite companies work in a Gulf of Mexico, from a small, eccentric oil association on a well-explored Outer Continental Shelf to a vital integrated companies exploring a ultra-deep waters. The whole attention is slicing spending and slicing jobs.

Bea pronounced companies underneath financial vigour are some-more expected to take reserve risks. “The mercantile cost fist is on vast time,” Bea said, adding smaller companies are squeezed tightest.

In Harvey, Versabar’s Steinmetz is some-more optimistic. Steinmetz pronounced Katrina broken most of a comparison oil and gas infrastructure in a Gulf of Mexico. As shop-worn platforms are private and comparison apparatus replaced, a odds of widespread failures is lower, he said.

Today, a vast apportionment of Versabar’s work is in offshore cleanup. The association designed on a one-of-a-kind floating lift vessel that could safely lift whole platforms from a seabed.

“We’re solemnly removing those comparison structures out of there,” he said. “We’re removing there.”

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