Gulf of Mexico growth increases need for storm evac planning

The growth in deep-water operations in the Gulf of Mexico has increased the need for emergency transportation facilities that can move workers out of harm’s way in case of of a hurricane, a Shell transportation expert said Tuesday morning.

Deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico has increased for many of the major operators, according to Patrick Bosman, aviation manager for the Gulf of Mexico for Royal Dutch Shell. Shell has more than 2,500 workers out in the Gulf on any given day, increasing the demand for helicopters in the case of an emergency. Shell’s Perdido installation, for example, is  more than 200 miles from the coast, so a round-trip helicopter evacuation trip takes several hours.

“It takes about three days to conduct an evacuation and we need those three days,” Bosman said. “We have to prepare for a full-blown evacuation.”

Bosman spoke at a hurricane symposium in Houston.

While the threat of an explosion or a cyber attack has received more attention, hurricanes demand more planning because of the resources required, as many platforms need to be evacuated in a short time period, each requiring multiple helicopters.

Companies typically begin evacuating non-essential offshore workers  with the first notification of a possible hurricane, as they  try to assess the extent of the threat.  If the storm progresses, the installation is  secured and fully evacuated.

The worst-case scenarios involve hurricanes that arrive with little warning, such as 2005′s  paralyzing Hurricane Katrina, which found  the industry relatively unprepared.

Bosman said that Shell’s Mars tension leg platform had substantial damage following Hurricane Katrina.

Shell’s other strategies for evacuating installations include using alternate terminals and establishing backup command centers in case storms threaten primary ones.