One year ago today the Gulf Coast was still digging out from a Category 4 hurricane.
Hurricane Ivan had terrorized the Caribbean for 20 days in September, causing at least 92 deaths, slamming ashore at Gulf Shores, Ala., on Sept. 24, 2004.
The U.S. National Weather Service said Ivan was the most destructive hurricane to affect this area in more than 100 years.
And now, the Gulf Coast is again digging out from a Category 4 hurricane that topped Ivan in all categories. Katrina likely will be judged as the worst natural disaster to hit the United States to date, with the aftermath of the storm compounding the problems.
The industry weathered Ivan in great shape. And at press time, the reports from the "front" were still being tallied on Katrina.
Focusing on the industry's lot, Ivan's 2004 path included 150 platforms and 10,000 miles of pipeline. It hit seven platforms and significantly damaged 24 others.
The 2004 tempest wreaked havoc underwater, too, by triggering mudslides in the Mississippi River delta that damaged at least 13 pipeline systems. Another four large-diameter pipelines were shut-in from other causes due to Ivan.
"What is amazing (about Ivan) is that (this) storm came straight through the heart of the oil industry in the Gulf of Mexico, caused an impressive amount of destruction, yet resulted in no significant environmental or safety disaster," AAPG member Dan Orange said in a April 2005 EXPLORER report.
For Katrina, 561 platforms and rigs were evacuated, according to the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS), accounting for a quarter of U.S. oil production. Over 91 percent of daily oil production and 84 percent of natural gas production was shut-in in early September.
Hurricane Katrina's blitzkrieg — again through the heart of the Gulf's mid-section — left the industry reeling along with everyone.
Unlike 2004's Hurricane Ivan, which affected upstream oil production facilities and had a lasting impact on crude oil production in the Gulf of Mexico, it appears that Hurricane Katrina may have a more lasting impact on the downstream refinery production and the distribution system, the MMS said.
One of those major impacts was the closing of Louisiana Highway 1, two narrow lanes of road cutting through the marshes of south Louisiana that is a lifeline to about 17 percent of America's natural gas and about 16 percent of U.S. crude oil (September 2003 EXPLORER).
Its long-term effectiveness as a viable transportation route is anyone's guess, according to the Louisiana Department of Transportation.
At press time, a week after landfall, the industry was still struggling to make contact with employees, and damage assessments were just beginning.
Orange is familiar with the scenario — and was AAPG's Program Committee chairman for the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) last May. The focus was offshore geohazards.
"Dealing with hurricanes isn't like dealing with earthquakes," said Orange, who is president and CEO of AOA Geophysics. "We know where they are and when they'll hit.
"Companies have set up a 'war room' where there is a well-rehearsed script to follow," he said. The war room is remote from the storm's impact and has the latest communications gear as well as "real time" onsite data available.
The war room script includes:
- Shut in the pipelines.
- Close the valves.
- Secure the platform.
- Evacuate personnel
"Then they hunker down and wait for the storm," he added.
Surveying the Damage
What is happening in the wake of this storm is what Orange calls the "damage assessment ritual."
As soon as feasible, the first phase is surveying the damage. It begins with fly-bys in fixed wing aircraft to determine the status of the platforms — and look for oil slicks.
Dallas-based Insurance Data Systems said some of these first passes "don't look good." The U.S. Coast Guard reported at one point that 20 rigs or platforms were missing, either sunk or adrift, plus one confirmed fire where a rig was. The fire was not a hazard and was allowed to burn out.
Meanwhile, other crews are charged with looking at what's happening on the seafloor.
"Every survey boat is being contracted immediately," Orange said, to look for new seafloor pock marks and at — or for — pipelines.
After Katrina, these boats are in short supply while the demand is high. At press time, Orange said the companies were still trying to get people to the boats.
He said the boats' equipment might include multi-beam bathymetry, side-scan sonar and high-resolution sub-bottom profilers. Some also may use high resolution 2-D seismic.
Then, triage begins with crews repairing the damage.
There are times, Orange said, the platforms are so damaged that the rigs cannot accommodate the crews; hotel-like boats are contracted to provide living quarters.
Pipelines are designed and built to withstand the rigors of major hurricanes, but the hazards are difficult to overcome, especially if they are in the path of a mudslide, "which really packs a wallop," Orange said.
After Hurricane Ivan, in the Main Pass areas, Orange said it was "20 miles of spaghetti" due to the tangled, displaced pipelines. One was pushed three-and-a-half miles from its mooring.
Orange said the Gulf area "is a well-known hazard environment, with fluffy sediments" where the crown jewels of the industry operates in near sea-level on an active delta heading to the on-land hubs.
He anticipated that one of the outcomes of the double whammy of Katrina and Ivan is an increased focus, including case studies and information-sharing, on the infrastructure and geohazards.
Katrina's malevolent bequest has left a staggering toll on society as well as the industry, and the impact is certain to be felt and remembered for generations. Many oil companies have already made generous corporate charitable responses as some struggle with internal losses as well.
AAPG is involved in Katrina relief funding on several levels. Both AAPG and the AAPG Foundation have made donations to a charitable fund on the members' behalf.
Also, a list of reputable relief organizations as listed by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency is available on the AAPG Web site.
Additionally, the OTC, of which AAPG is a sponsoring society and board member, donated $100,000 to the American Red Cross to assist in relief efforts in the Gulf Coast communities affected by Hurricane Katrina. The OTC is operated by 14 professional societies and trade associations representing all aspects of the offshore industry and sponsors an annual technology conference in Houston.
The AAPG established a message board on the AAPG Web site to assist in locating alternative temporary housing, office space and to assist in communicating those arrangements. Members are encouraged to use the message board
to coordinate efforts to assist others in rebuilding their libraries, their businesses, their lives.