Velda Addison, Hart Energy
A below-average hurricane forecast might put some people at ease, but it takes only one major storm to bring offshore operations to a halt.
There is a 70% chance that between six and 11 named storms will develop in the Atlantic Basin, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Of these storms, between three and six could become hurricanes packing wind speeds of more than 74 mph with the possibility for up to two major hurricanes with winds of more than 111 mph.
The oil and gas industry has been fortunate lately, surviving hurricane seasons—which run from June 1 through November 30—with few disruptions. But that is no reason to become complacent.
In 2013, one hurricane and four tropical storms swept through the Gulf of Mexico, but only one, Tropical Storm Karen, impacted production. Just more than 3 MMbbl of crude oil and 6.7 Bcf of natural gas were shut in by the storm, according to the Interior Department. The amounts represented about 7.5% of normal monthly oil production in the GoM and 3.4% of normal gas production, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a 2014 hurricane outlook-focused supplement to the Short-Term Energy Outlook.
However, other seasons have had much more devastating consequences.
Hurricane Katrina is perhaps the starkest reminder of the damage strong storms can have on offshore operations. The Category 5 storm had wind speeds of more than 170 mph with enormous waves that toppled Shell’s Mars platform and Chevron’s Typhoon platform, and sunk or significantly damaged many jackup rigs. Production dropped by more than 1 MMbbl/d.
Almost all production capacity was shut in in September 2008 when hurricanes Gustav and Ike, both Category 4 hurricanes, hit the GoM. When combined with a tropical storm in July of that year, the EIA estimated the storms resulted in the loss of about 25% of crude oil and gas that would have been produced during that 2008 hurricane season.
In August 2012, Hurricane Issac forced companies to evacuate production platforms in the GoM. At one point, nearly 95% of the daily oil production and about 72% of the daily natural gas production was shut in.
In recent years the oil and gas industry has strengthened preparations, revised recommended practices concerning mobile offshore drilling unit designs and operation, and has invested in new technology such FPSO vessels with disconnectable turret mooring. Shell even has a U.S. Storm Center section on its website with information about the company’s preparations, storm updates and information for employees.
“It only takes one hurricane or tropical storm making landfall in your community to significantly disrupt your life,” said FEMA Deputy Administrator Joseph Nimmich. “Everyone should take action now to prepare themselves and their families for hurricanes and powerful storms.”
That is advice well worth heeding, regardless of whether you’re onshore or offshore, at home or at work. Time will only tell what this season will actually bring.
Contact the author, Velda Addison, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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