Well, it's been a year since the Katrina/Rita debacle in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM). The oil companies took massive capital equipment and production losses, with many platforms and drilling rigs either heavily damaged or completely destroyed. It was an unprecedented year for hurricane damage to the oil and gas industry... and they aren't taking any chances THIS year...
Everyone in the GOM is on edge this year. The predictions are for another very active season, and the water temperatures are already above 85 degrees in the areas where most of the oil and gas activity is located.
The government entities who oversee the oil industry in the GOM (Mining and Minerals Service, US Coast Guard, and the EPA) have all instituted new rules and guidelines based upon the lessons learned last year.
For example, the MMS now requires that semi-submersible drilling rigs (Floaters) must now add an additional four anchors (very massive things!) to the existing eight when drilling on a particular location. While this may not seem a large task, consider that some of these rigs are drilling in waters more than 8000 feet deep. That means an additional 32000 feet of massive anchor chain (about 6 miles of it) has to be added to each rig. These anchors are designed to hole a rig on a particular spot while drilling, AND be able to hold it in position while a tropical system blows over it. What everyone knows is that it is a mute point if a cat 5 system develops. NOTHING will survive that without extensive damage. (Including the "new" levees in New Orleans)
Because oil companies are drilling in deeper and deeper waters (soon in excess of 12000 feet), the drilling companies are now saying that they will need at least six days notice of an impending storm to pull the risers and pipe, then evacuate or move the rig. This means that they will not be taking many chances this year, and are likely to bail out if the potential for a developing storm is even remotely possible. This is especially true in the Mississippi Canyon area just east of the Louisiana peninsula, south of Mississippi. These are very deep waters, and drilling activity has increased exponentially over the last couple of years due to very large oil deposits and the technology to now exploit them in very deep waters.
I live in South Georgia (Valdosta), and drive to, or from work every 14-days. It's a 500-600 mile trek primarily on I-10. It has been an interesting lesson in watching recovery operations along the route over the last year.
In the weeks immediately following Katrina, I couldn't use I-10 due to bridge damage and road problems. It made my "commute" very very long, and only slightly better than the average travelling citizen's due to my being able to get through checkpoints in the New Orleans area due to my employment as a helicopter pilot in the GOM.
When I was able to once again travel I-10, I was stunned by the level of damage I saw from Mobile, through Eastern Texas. Virtually every roadside billboard from Mobile to New Orleans had been destroyed or heavily damaged (not necessarily a bad thing! heh heh). Blue roofs were the order of the day in every neighborhood I could see from the interstate. Trees were blown down en masse along the highway, and debris littered the road for months. Bridges were either impassable, or reduced to one very slow lane.
In the months that followed, I found it interesting to observe the continuing repairs and recovery operations that continue to this day. The areas most devastated in Mississippi along I-10 have seen relatively rapid recovery, so much so that it is hard to tell that a major hurricane had gone through last year. Of course, there are exceptions... especially the long bridges near Mobile and Pensacola, where major repairs continue even now. (These are bridges that were first heavily damaged in 2004, then utterly decimated in 2005 before full repairs had been done)
Of all the areas I travel through during my semi-monthly commute, the Eastern portion of New Orleans is the most disturbing. As late as three days ago, there is a long stretch of I-10 along which it looks like Katrina blew through just last week! Recovery is virtually non-existent and the area looks like something out of a Discovery Channel special on third-world countries. It is intensely depressing to see.
Adding to New Orlean's problems is that many of the people who have returned are those dregs of society who have little respect for people OR the law. Crime in New Orleans has mushroomed over the last few months, and it almost seems like anarchy prevails. The worst of it was a massive homicide just two weeks ago, where an assassination-style attack killed five people in what is being considered a turf war. Pathetic!
If another hurricane hits New Orleans this year, the grand old city may NEVER recover...
The helicopter company I work for took heavy damage or complete destruction of a number of our Gulf Bases. Our Cameron and Venice, Louisiana bases were completely destroyed. Our Port Fourchon base was heavily damaged. Our Johnson Bayou base was destroyed. Our headquarters in Lake Charles was heavily damaged, though we were lucky because the airline passenger terminal, located just a couple of hundred feet away, was destroyed by a Rita-spawned tornado that just missed our facility. We have rebuilt our bases for the most part, and we're ready for this year's hurricane surprises. The oil companies rely on us to evacuate their folks from offshore, and we're ready. What will 2006 bring?
Last year, I was unable to update this new blog following Katrina and Rita due to loss of internet service in the areas and bases where we fly. Additionally, we were operating out of temporary bases and VERY VERY busy day to day.
This year, I resolve to carry my Sony 828 digital camera with me all the time, and I'll update frequently with news, and pictures as I'm able.
Updated: 8:55 PM GMT on June 24, 2006
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