BP adjusts approach to hurricane season in Gulf

HOUSTON – A new batch of small, unpredictable storms in the Gulf of Mexico flummoxed forecast models last year, prompting BP to better prepare for abrupt bad weather during this summer’s hurricane season, which begins Sunday.

“Traditionally, we see them coming,” said Richard Morrison, regional president of BP’s Gulf of Mexico business, during a press conference at the company’s U.S. headquarters in Houston. “One of the things we learned last year is that some storms brew up in the Gulf pretty quickly. We’ve been thinking about our plans and how we plan for short, pop-up storms.”

The smaller storms are harder to track and predict than big hurricanes, and it’s almost impossible to say whether they will dissipate quickly or survive for longer periods of time. BP, the largest acreage holder in the Gulf with 620 leases, was forced to respond to three of the an estimated 70 sudden storms that hit the Atlantic Coast last year. Its 10 rigs in the Gulf sit about 60 miles to 130 miles off the U.S. coast and drill to depths between 4,500 feet to 7,000 feet of water.

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The changing winds, caused largely by cooling waters in the Gulf, have pushed the company to look at a wider variety of weather conditions and to respond earlier to key triggers, said Chris Kenny, BP’s area operations manager for the Gulf. The storms can develop in less than 48 hours.

“It’s very uncertain how they’re going to develop, so predicting those conditions is very challenging,” Kenny said. “Our forecasting capability has massively improved, but there’s still a huge degree of uncertainty.”

Fewer big hurricanes

Overall, weather conditions in the Gulf are expected to improve, with fewer big hurricanes. Cooler-than-normal waters in the Gulf have eased the threat of big hurricanes, making them less likely to develop, said Mike Fuori, a meteorologist with BP North America. Last year, only Hurricane Ingrid bothered the Gulf, home of about a quarter of the U.S. oil supply.

Colorado State University, a well-respected forecaster, predicts only three hurricanes and one major hurricane in the Atlantic this year.

“It’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security,” Kenny said.

Quicker decisions

More of the storms developed in the south, an unusual change for the region. The company instructed 40 employees to refine the triggers it uses to determine weather risks, Kenny said.

BP assumes weather events will delay around 12 production days every year, but it does not maintain an expectation on evacuation and other costs.

The company falls back on five phases when responding to weather events. The first begins in June, when the company begins to closely track the weather. Then it secures its equipment, evacuates non-essential personnel, shuts down operations and evacuates the remaining personnel, generally by helicopter. BP is acting more quickly on tell-tale signs of incoming storms, Kenny said.

“What we’ve done is force ourselves to look at more uncertain weather conditions and make our decisions earlier in that process,” he said.

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