Sparked by widespread damage to Gulf of Mexico oil and natural gas infrastructure during the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, the U.S. Department of the Interior's Minerals Management Service (MMS) last week issued a final rule in the Federal Register to "improve the survivability" of offshore platforms and increase environmental safety during hurricane events.
The rule incorporates three American Petroleum Institute (API) bulletins that contain engineering design principles and good practices for new platforms and assessments of existing platforms by imposing more stringent design and assessment criteria for both new and existing structures in the Gulf of Mexico. The MMS said the new criteria will "increase survivability" during hurricane conditions and result in fewer damaged platforms, thereby "protecting critical oil and gas resources" and making those resources available after hurricane events.
According to the MMS, damage to the oil and gas infrastructure as a result of the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons included the destruction of 123 fixed structures and one floating facility, as well as significant damage to dozens of other fixed and floating structures. Category 5 Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in August and September 2005 devastated oil and gas operations in the Gulf of Mexico. Based on central pressure, the MMS said Katrina and Rita were ranked as two of the 10 most intense hurricanes to ever hit the Atlantic region and the greatest natural disasters to oil and gas development in the history of the Gulf of Mexico.
Both hurricanes saw maximum sustained winds of 175 mph, peak wind gusts up to 235 mph and central pressure as low as 902 millibars. MMS estimates that 3,050 of the Gulf's 4,000 platforms and 22,000 of the 33,000 miles of Gulf pipelines were in the direct path of either Hurricane Katrina or Rita, resulting in the destruction of 115 platforms, damage to 52 others, damage of 535 pipeline segments, and near total shutdown of the Gulf's offshore oil and gas production.
The MMS pointed out that the longevity of Katrina and Rita's impact was also telling. More than nine months after Rita came through, 22% of federal oil production and 13% of gas production remained shut in, resulting in the loss of 150 million bbl of oil and 730 Bcf of gas from domestic supplies.
Shoring up Gulf infrastructure is crucial, especially if some of the hurricane forecasts for this year hold up (see related story). According to esteemed hurricane forecasters William Gray and Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State University, the U.S. Atlantic basin will likely experience a well above-average hurricane season this year and odds are nearly even that a major hurricane will make landfall on the Gulf Coast (see NGI, April 14).
Following the 2005 hurricanes MMS, API, and members of the offshore oil and gas industry collaborated to improve the standards by which Outer Continental Shelf structures are designed and assessed to withstand meteorological events involving wind, wave, current and surge. The three bulletins supplement the API's Recommended Practice 2A-WSD, Recommended Practice for Planning, Designing and Constructing Fixed Offshore Platforms-Working Stress Design, which contains engineering design principles and good practices for new platforms and assessments of existing platforms.
These bulletins offer more stringent design and assessment criteria for both new and existing structures located within particular Gulf of Mexico areas:
The final rule, RIN 1010-AD48 Incorporate American Petroleum Institute Hurricane Bulletins, becomes effective May 15. More information on the bulletins and the rule is available in volume 73 of the Federal Register, available at www.gpoaccess.gov on the National Archives and Records Administration's website.
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