Industry, government groups describe hurricane steps

May 31, 2006
US oil and gas producers, pipelines, and refiners are working closely with federal, state, and local governments to prepare for the 2006 hurricane season, industry and government officials said on May 30.

Nick Snow
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON, DC, May 31 -- US oil and gas producers, pipelines, and refiners are working closely with federal, state, and local governments to prepare for the 2006 hurricane season, industry and government officials said on May 30.

The groups are working to apply lessons from Hurricanes Ivan in 2004 and Katrina and Rita in 2005, representatives of the American Petroleum Institute, US Minerals Management Service, and US Department of Energy told reporters at a briefing.

Their statements came 8 days after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA's) National Hurricane Center predicted a North Atlantic hurricane season with higher-than-average activity from June 1 through Nov. 30.

NOAA expects 13-16 named storms, with 8-10 becoming hurricanes, of which 4-6 could become major hurricanes. An average season has 11 named storms, with 6 becoming hurricanes, 2 of which are classified as major, according to the agency. In 2005, the Atlantic hurricane season produced a record 28 storms, 15 of which were hurricanes and 7 of which were classified as major, with a record 4 major storms hitting the US.

API Pres. Red Cavaney noted that no significant oil or gas releases occurred in the Gulf of Mexico as a result of Hurricanes Ivan, Katrina, and Rita. The area's offshore infrastructure, which includes about 4,000 platforms and 33,000 miles of pipelines, also came through the storms well, he indicated.

Rigs adrift
But the hurricanes did cause several rigs to drift off location, he noted. "While this drifting did not cause spills, both industry and government were concerned and saw a need to improve the performance of these rigs."

Cavaney said representatives from API, offshore producers, drilling contractors, and other upstream industry associations met with MMS and US Coast Guard officials in November to identify problems with jack up rigs and other mobile offshore drilling units (MODUs) during the storms and to implement improvements.

Since that meeting, a joint industry hurricane response committee has led an effort to develop new recommended operating practices for the coming hurricane season, Cavaney said. API has recently published two interim recommended practices covering jack ups and MODUs.

"In addition, industry studies are under way to assess mooring systems and station-keeping technology, as well as meteorological and oceanographic conditions during hurricanes in the gulf," Cavaney said.

Separately, the International Association of Drilling Contractors' work group on revision of the International Maritime Organization's MODU code met May 25 at IADC headquarters in Houston to prepare an initial draft of amendments for submission to the ship design and equipment subcommittee of the IMO's maritime safety committee.

The subcommittee originally began amending the IMO's MODU code in February 2005 and established a 2007 completion target at that time, according to IADC.

Cavaney also noted that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year led to shutdown of 29% of the nation's total refining capacity and of onshore production and transmission operations.

"As quickly as humanly possible, the industry worked with government agencies to get the necessary waivers of fuel standards to provide necessary flexibility to get supplies where they were needed," he said.

March conference
Cavaney said API also hosted a conference in March with DOE, MMS, the Coast Guard, the Homeland Security Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, and state and local regulators.

"Improved operational coordination is under way with government agencies at all levels, as exemplified by our past meetings and a forthcoming meeting with DOE regarding hurricanes," Cavaney said.

One important lesson from Katrina and Rita was electricity's important role in the oil and gas infrastructure as pipelines, refineries, and gas processing plants that had not sustained major damage still weren't able to operate because they could not get the necessary power.

Kevin Kolevar, director of DOE's electricity deliverability and reliability office, said the federal government, state and local leaders, and energy industries need to work together to eliminate barriers and restore power following a hurricane or other disaster.

Since last year's hurricanes, Kolevar said, DOE has strengthened its hurricane response system in several ways, including:

-- Training 30 more employees to respond to emergencies, bringing the number of specially trained emergency response personnel at the agency to 70.

-- Hosting an energy leadership forum in Tunica, Miss., in January to review best practices and lessons with industry representatives and government leaders.

-- Updating and enhancing the hurricane modeling system for DOE's visualization room.

-- Working with states to improve their energy response plans.

-- Implementing a toll-free hot-line for the 2006 hurricane season to help state and local officials and industry representatives communicate with DOE during emergencies.

MMS actions
Bud Dannenberg, chief of offshore regulatory programs at the MMS, said his agency also has implemented several improvements to its hurricane oversight system, including:

-- Extensive preseason planning with DOE and the Coast Guard to facilitate communications during storms.

-- Coordination with oil and gas producers and offshore drilling contractors to improve safety, specifically with MODU improvements, jack up self-assessment guidelines, risk assessment tools, and platform upgrades.

-- Inviting a Coast Guard representative to join the MMS Continuity of Operations Plan team to improve communication about damages to facilities and subsequent warnings to ships and vessels by the Coast Guard.

-- Improving hurricane electronic warning systems for better communications between the industry and the MMS.

Contact Nick Snow at [email protected].