Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention, prompting many oil and natural gas companies, including El Paso Corp., to come up with new ways of doing business in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

El Paso’s extensive gas pipeline systems in the Gulf of Mexico include Southern Natural Gas, Tennessee Gas Pipeline and the ANR Pipeline. The company also is a producer, with operations onshore and offshore in the Gulf and South Louisiana. Following the storm, numerous obstacles hindered the company’s assessment efforts but storm damaged heliports were a substantial barrier. Helicopter companies were forced to move their reduced operations inland — which, in turn, created a refueling dilemma for deepwater flyovers and assessment activities.

Enter Larry Slowik and Everett Moss. Slowik is the area operations manager for El Paso’s Houma, LA operations. Moss works within the Aviation Group there. The two came up with an ingenious plan to outfit a barge as an offshore helipad.

“These guys were noodling around on several ideas, trying to figure how to get the repairs taken care of, and how to keep more [helicopters] in the air fueled,” said Richard Wheatley, communications director at El Paso. “They came up with this idea. It’s a pretty novel thing.”

The mobile barge, 38-feet-wide and 140-feet-long, will be tied to a tugboat to handle helicopter refueling offshore, Wheatley said. Onboard, El Paso installed everything possible that may be needed to refuel and provide assessment and diving crews with the equipment they need. It also has first aid supplies and oil spill equipment for emergencies.

Work on the helicopter-accessible barge was expected to be completed Thursday and ready for deployment by Saturday for helicopter flyovers to El Paso’s affected areas both offshore and in the near onshore.

“This is a really neat idea,” Wheatley noted. “It’s a good example of the initiative of the personnel in Houma to get this thing going and deployed. Logistically, we were limited with getting material and supplies that we needed over there…with getting diving crews where they needed to be.

“Now, there’s been a pretty big evolution in our Houston office to move supplies and various kinds of materials over to the Houma office, where we have a warehouse, to get this project underway.”

El Paso’s barge initiative isn’t the only action it’s taken for the company and its employees in Katrina’s wake. Teresa McDonald, section chief in charge of logistics on El Paso’s crisis response team, put in some long hours to coordinate the transport of “all kinds of equipment” for the company’s displaced employees.

Temporary apartment housing has been set up in Houma, and El Paso has shipped spare vehicles, ice machines, first aid kits, food and other supplies. Tetanus and hepatitis A vaccinations also were given to all of the affected employees this week, said Wheatley.

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