Sometimes weather is worse than even the worst-case projections. In 2012, as oil and gas companies along the mid-Atlantic coast prepared for Hurricane Sandy, the hurricane was quickly upgraded to a tropical cyclone called Superstorm Sandy, with record-breaking tides, wind, and flooding.
The good news from Superstorm Sandy was that the oil and gas industry was prepared for it. Employees were evacuated early. Although 6 refineries had temporary shutdowns, they were back up and running fairly quickly, all things considered. The most severe hurricane damage was to docks, control systems, vapor recovery units, and electric switching gear.
The 2018 Eastern Pacific hurricane season begins May 15 and the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf seasons start June 1. The end of hurricane season is generally considered to be November 30. As the season approaches this year, it’s a good time review your company’s weather emergency preparedness.
The Power of Preparation
The takeaway from Superstorm Sandy and other recent hurricanes is that oil and gas companies can survive them mostly intact, with good preparation. Here’s a helpful checklist of issues to add to your weather emergency preparedness plan.
The safety of people should be the highest priority as severe weather approaches. Offshore operations should evacuate in three phases, so that only the most critical personnel remain as the storm approaches.
Don’t abandon workers in their time of need. Provide emergency support services, funds, crisis housing, and other employee assistance as workers cope with weather emergencies.
Make sure your contact information for emergency services is always kept up to date. This includes company insurance and financial providers.
Securing Outdoor Areas
Loose and tethered objects cause many injuries during severe weather. Have a plan in place for securing exterior zones, especially along climbing and walking routes, before the worst of the weather hits.
Decks and Platforms
Platforms should be built to withstand the world’s highest wind speeds. New clamps can resist 2 million psi of pressure - Katrina-level wind resistance. Facilities built after 1988 should have platform decks that can handle 80 feet of hurricane swells, which is a category 3, 4, or 5 storm. Ensure your facility meets or exceeds federal regulations.
Drilling and Rigs
Move drillships out of the path of storms as early as possible. Mobile offshore drilling units (MODUs) should have ample mooring lines with failsafe break points to prevent pipeline damage. For jack-up rigs, take on additional ballast water for balance. The National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA) has additional best practices for drilling and rig safety.
During and after an emergency, you’ll need primary plan for communications, plus a back-up plan during loss of electricity. Arrange methods of receiving timely storm notifications and tracking weather changes. Set up two-way communications with air and marine transport between offshore operations and on-shore bases.
In the earliest stages of the storm, set a time when final shutdown procedures will begin. Update this timeframe as the storm progresses and err on the side of caution. A shutdown plan should include things like subsurface valves, incoming and outgoing pipelines, and operating systems. Prepare for a rolling power-up after the storm, and be on the alert for pressure buildup and unexpected system failure - two common hazards in post-storm power-ups.
Consider adding hazard reporting software to your weather safety strategy. An app like FirstHand by Zeteky allows your on-site workers to upload safety reports minute by minute. During storm preparations, every moment is of paramount importance.