OTC: Operators told to prepare for storm season

Angel White
Associate Editor

HOUSTON, May 2 -- With less than 30 days to another hurricane season, operators need to ready themselves for what is forecast to be another "very active" storm period, said oil and gas professionals during a panel discussion at the Offshore Technology Conference.

The 2007 hurricane season could produce as much as 17 storms, 5 of which could be major hurricanes. Meteorologists further estimate a 74% chance of a major hurricane hitting the US this year.

The "Storm Warnings" panelists made assessments and suggestions which operators could consider or implement to ensure that their various facilities are prepared to weather the looming Hurricane season.

Drilling rigs
"Not all rigs are suited to work in the central Gulf of Mexico during hurricane season," said Allen J. Verret, executive director of the Offshore Operators Committee, an industry trade association in New Orleans.

Also, companies need to "improve drilling planning to mitigate risks," he said, explaining that some wells may need to be drilled when storms are not a threat. He reminded the conference attendees that the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season is in September.

Furthermore, Verret said companies must identify assets that are at risk, prioritize the risks, and evaluate methods to reduce exposure to storms, such as utilizing subsea operations. However, he pointed out that even subsea operations won't make companies' facilities totally safe from harm considering the damage of pipelines in the Gulf of Mexico from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

Frank Puskar, president of Energo Engineering Inc., Houston, said companies may need to increase deck elevation on new platforms and should be concerned about deck elevation of existing platforms. He explained that of 120 platforms destroyed during Hurricanes Ivan in 2004, Katrina, and Rita, "60% had wave in the deck."

Puskar said platforms designed using the modern American Petroleum Institute RP 2A guidelines with new design deck elevations had a "good chance of not being destroyed." API RP 2A is the recommended practice for planning, designing, and constructing fixed offshore platforms.

The US Minerals Management Service needs to work more closely with the industry and US Coast Guard to get information quickly when facilities are adrift, said Alex Alvarado, chief of pipeline for the MMS Gulf of Mexico office. He said about 20,000 miles or 60% of the pipelines in the gulf were impacted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and pipeline repairs are continuing.

In fact, 2-3% of the pipeline capacity is still down after the 2005 storms, said Allen S. Brown, associate editor of American Society of Mechanical Engineer's Mechanical Engineer magazine.

Alvarado said the industry has completed most inspections to determine the full extent of pipeline damage, and to date, 655 pipelines have been reported damaged, of which 142 have diameters of 10 in. or greater.

Of the 655 pipelines damaged, 216 were associated with platform damage, 13 with third-party impact, 12 were displaced by currents, 72 were exposed, 142 were related to riser damage, 26 by crossing damage, and 173 were the result of other or unknown damage, he said.

"Katrina and Rita were the most difficult hurricane response and recovery effort [for the industry]," Alvarado said.

Assessing the industry's performance after the 2005 storms Verret said, "When challenged, industry performs."

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