As of Thursday morning, all the platforms and rigs in the Gulf of Mexico that were evacuated because of Hurricane Dennis were remanned, the Minerals Management Service (MMS) said. MMS puts the total gas production still shut in at 268.29 MMcf/d as of 11: 30 a.m. CDT Thursday.
The cumulative gas production shut in since last Friday now stands at 23.211 Bcf and the cumulative oil production shut in stands at 5.27 million bbl. About 54,431 bbl/d of oil remains shut in, MMS said based on reports from eight companies.
Although it appears less likely that Hurricane Emily will be in a position next week to cause damage to offshore oil and gas infrastructure, she may force another wave of evacuations and potentially some production shut ins, particularly offshore South Texas. The National Hurricane Center estimates that the center of Emily will be about 200 miles east-northeast of Tampico, Tamaulipas, Mexico by 8 a.m. next Tuesday.
The fifth storm of the Atlantic hurricane season became a hurricane on Wednesday as she passed over the Windward Islands of the eastern Caribbean. At 5 p.m. AST on Thursday, Emily was located 445 miles southeast of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic and moving west-northwest at 21 mph. Maximum sustained winds were near 115 mph, making Emily a category three hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Some additional strengthening is expected over the next 24 hours, the NHC said.
On Monday, Gulf producers will be entering their third straight week with a tropical event to manage. That’s bad news for many, but particularly for BP and ExxonMobil, owners of the $1 billion Thunder Horse platform. As of Thursday afternoon, the deck of Thunder Horse was still listing, but engineers and work crews were able to raise one column about 10 feet and another about five feet, said spokesman Ronnie Chappell.
“Now the structure has begun to move around some, and as a result progress is more difficult to access. These are visual observations from an adjacent work vessel.” Chappell said several hundred workers were helping right the structure, including teams from the MMS and the Coast Guard.
He wouldn’t say whether there was a possibility that the platform might sink. “The platform is designed to float, and there is a lot of redundancy built into it. We’ve got these pumping operations underway and we’re making progress. That’s really all I can say. We’ve got a plan and we’re working it. I’m not going to speculate on how long this process will take.”
Like all semi-submersibles, Thunder Horse, which is the largest of its kind in the world, is equipped with a ballast system so that the level of the platform can be adjusted in the water according to the infrastructure on board. The four columns and connecting structure are partially submerged and anchored to the sea floor with 16 mooring lines, massive chains with nearly six-inch diameter steel links. On Monday morning, the platform was found severely listing, with one end of its deck in the water.
Although Hurricane Dennis most likely had something to do with the problem, the company still has not found a direct cause, said Chappell. “We are still trying to determine a cause. This listing incident certainly coincided with the hurricane, but we have not found something that would tie it to the hurricane,” he said.
“The platform was designed to withstand the very largest storms that occur in the Gulf of Mexico. I don’t know what the design criteria is but the eye of this hurricane was more than 100 miles away; it did not bear the brunt of the storm. We do not believe that the platform saw anything approaching its design criteria.”
The National Data Buoy Center said that wave heights in the vicinity of Thunder Horse on Sunday reached peak levels of about 35 feet.
Although Emily is unlikely to produce waves of that size in the central and eastern Gulf, the seas are still likely to be quite rough and the platform may be more vulnerable to wave damage in its current position.
Production from Thunder Horse was scheduled to begin late this year. Thunder Horse has a nameplate capacity for 250,000 bbl/d of oil and 200 MMcf/d of gas. It was expected to reach those production levels over the course of the first 12 months of commercial operation. It is unclear at this point whether the platform will meet its production schedule.
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