Preparing for hurricanes, 1,200 miles away from the Gulf

(Photo by NOAA via Getty Images)
(Photo by NOAA via Getty Images)

More than 1,200 miles away from the Gulf of Mexico, scientists and government officials will be huddling on June 27 to strategize ways to safeguard offshore oil platforms and pipelines when hurricanes bear down on the infrastructure.

The Interior Department forum in Washington, D.C. is designed to bring together the wide array of state and federal government bodies who play a role when storms move through, including the Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, Coast Guard, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Pipeline regulators and offshore drilling overseers at the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement also are expected to participate, along with representatives from Gulf Coast states and the American Petroleum Institute.

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U.S. forecasters have predicted an above-average 2013 hurricane season, with between nine and 18 tropical storms. Forecasters say eight could develop into hurricanes during the more active Atlantic hurricane season.

In the Gulf, the risk is that those storms will damage a web of pipelines and platforms that pump oil out of the ground and to the coast, potentially harming workers at the installations and damaging the environment. Nearly a quarter of U.S. oil is harvested from the Gulf, so damage on the water can translate to supply disruptions onshore.

Recent hurricane seasons and storms illustrate the threat. Last year, superstorm Sandy devastated the East Coast, forcing New Jersey refineries to shut down and causing power outages, supply disruptions and rationing at filling stations in the region.

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In 2005, Hurricane Katrina forced nearly half of all Gulf Coast refining facilities to close. In the Gulf, platforms topped and some pipelines were yanked from the seafloor.

And when Hurricane Isaac swept through the region last August, it caused refineries to halt production and briefly shut down most Gulf oil production.

Safety bureau director James Watson said the forum is part of “our continuing efforts to be fully prepared for the hurricane season.”

“We will have an important discussion about what we are all doing to prepare for and respond to such storms, to ensure minimal impact to the supply of energy from offshore areas,” Watson said.

The event is scheduled to take place from 9 a.m. eastern until 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 27 at the Interior Department’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.