Hurricanes aren’t just dangerous for oil and gas companies; they can be catastrophic. Refineries in Texas, California, and around the Gulf of Mexico must be prepared for hurricanes and tropical storms. And any company with offshore platforms faces costly risks from these deadly storms.
During hurricane season – and sometimes outside it – pent-up heat in the water and air creates massive wind and waves. Winds rage at 75 to 100 mph, battering seaside refineries. Storm surges reach 12 feet high, threatening to destroy offshore platforms.
In the Gulf region alone, 17% of U.S. oil is produced and 45% is refined. When these facilities go down during a hurricane, the entire nation is affected. This was painfully obvious during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, when 115 platforms were destroyed and 52 were seriously damaged. A government report called it “one of the greatest natural disasters to oil and gas development in the history of the Gulf of Mexico.”
The Good News
For oil and gas companies, there is some good news about hurricanes. Despite raging winds and repeated “100-year” level storms, 97% of platforms survived the infamous 2004-2005 season. No significant oil was spilled. There were also zero deaths among 25,000 to 30,000 workers, mostly due to quick evacuations and high safety standards.
In some ways, surviving a record-breaking hurricane season was a triumph for the industry. In other ways, it was a stern reminder of what could have happened. After all, 3% of platforms were destroyed, a significant loss for those companies. Production at most gulf operations was halted or limited for weeks after the storms.
Weathering the Storm
Oil and gas companies survive hurricanes by being proactive and prepared. A report from the National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA) recommends the following best practices for successful storm survival at oil refineries and offshore platforms.
WIND AND WAVE PRESSURE: Ensure platforms can withstand the world’s highest wind speeds. There are new clamps that can resist 2 million psi of pressure, which is Katrina-level wind resistance.
HEIGHT THREATS: Any facility built after 1988 should have a platform deck that exceeds 80 feet of hurricane swells, which is a category 3, 4, or 5 storm. Double-check your facility for compliance with this federal regulation.
LOOSE AND TETHERED OBJECTS: During evacuations, workers are sometimes injured by early winds blowing poorly-secured items across platforms and walking routes. Make someone responsible for checking all exterior zones for loose objects.
DRILLSHIPS: All drillships should be moved out of hurricane zones as early as possible, based on weather tracking information.
MODUs: Mobile Offshore Drilling Units should have ample mooring lines and should be engineered with failsafe breaking points to prevent damage to pipelines.
JACK-UP RIGS: Take on extra ballast water for good balance and, if possible, raise platforms higher.
Evacuations and Employee Assistance
- Established personnel structure that organizes evacuation in stages
- Method of receiving timely storm notifications
- Two-way communication with air/marine transport
- Procedures for securing equipment
- Early evacuation of non-essential personnel
- Shut-down procedures, including subsurface valves, incoming and outgoing pipelines, and operating systems
- Final evacuation of remaining personnel
- Redundancy and double-checks, especially in terms of ensuring workers are safe
- Prioritization plan for restarting electric power and other operations
- Contact information for local emergency resources, which is kept up to date
- Emergency support services, funds, crisis housing, and other employee assistance
With a hurricane plan in place, your company will be among the survivors, season after season. See how the FirstHand app helps oil and gas companies be proactive before hurricanes hit.