With Hurricane Ida ripping through the South, you may be curious as to how offshore platforms navigate these situations. While hurricanes are devastating onshore, they are downright destructive when it comes to offshore platforms. These massive structures are built to withstand the elements, but what happens when the power goes out and the wind picks up? This article will break down how companies prepare and execute evacuations in times of emergency, as well as what procedures must be taken to ensure that everyone makes it off safely.
A successful evacuation procedure comes down to preparation. It is not uncommon to consult with a meteorologist who presents a mock scenario and answers any questions the workers might have. From there, the meteorologist will make use of prediction models that take the weather and maritime data into account. Once the storm develops, they provide daily briefings and transition time reports often called T-time reports. A T-time is the number of hours it would take to fully secure a platform and evacuate personnel before the storm hits. This can range from as little as 5 hours to several days.
While the evacuation of offshore platforms is rare, it does happen, usually in response to severe storms (such as Hurricane Ida). Companies design their evacuation procedures based on local hazards and each facility’s unique vulnerability to damage from extreme weather. Depending on the severity of danger, evacuations can be partial or full-scale with many processes dependent on individual facilities’ internal protocols. First, non-essential personnel is evacuated allowing the rest of the workers to secure and shut down the rig. Non-dynamically positioned rigs will often prepare by putting extra supports and anchors on the seafloor. These rigs are constructed to withstand even 100-year storms and are rarely tipped. Dynamically positioned rigs are not connected to the seafloor as they maintain their position with propellers and thrusters, so they can be repositioned somewhere safer before the storm.
Shutdown and Monitoring
After the rig is secured production is shut down, and the last of personnel are evacuated. The underwater valves on production equipment ensure that even if the rig experiences damage, no oil and gas will be leaked from the seafloor. With the platform now fully evacuated, a team on the mainland monitors the position of each rig to see if the storm was able to displace it. This almost never happens. The team will monitor the rig until the storm passes and it is deemed safe enough to inspect the rig for damage.
The first step in an evacuation is to get a full damage assessment. The best way to do that is by getting a birds-eye view of your surroundings from a helicopter. With visibility from above, you’ll be able to see exactly what needs fixing and how serious it is. The damage is noted and reported back to the respective crews responsible for making repairs. As soon as the damage is repaired the rig will bring everyone back, restart production, and return to normal operation.
When it’s all said and done, the entire process can take a matter of weeks, or even just a few days. While most companies end up evacuating the Gulf, some are far enough out of the storm’s path that evacuation is unnecessary. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement will release daily reports updating you on just how many platforms and rigs have been evacuated along with an estimated amount of production shut-in. Below is one such report from the BSEE released 9-1-21.
Overall, offshore environments are incredibly well managed when danger arises as they have had year after year to perfect their response. Hopefully, not too much damage will be sustained by Hurricane Ida, and the Gulf gets back to business as soon as possible.
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