Special Report: Rita's Projected Path Could Mean Big Damages

For more information about Rita, including details and maps of offshore drilling rigs and platforms in the path of the storm, please visit our Hurricane Rita Special Coverage.

On this Thursday afternoon, all of the Gulf Coast waits to see where Rita will go next. Currently, this massive Category 4 hurricane is working its way across the central Gulf of Mexico on its slow arc northwest towards the Texas and Louisiana shorelines. As Rita plods forward at 9 miles per hour, everyone from Corpus Christi to New Iberia is watching intently to find out how close to home she'll strike and how much force Rita is going to bring to bear.

As of late Thursday, Hurricane Rita sits poised on the edge of US waters, preparing to make its drive through the central and western GOM oil and gas leasing areas. Based on current projections, the eye of Hurricane Rita is likely to pass through some of the most active producing areas in the Gulf. In total, there are approximately 860 unmanned platforms in areas expected to experience hurricane force winds, with an additional 360 manned platforms in those areas, for a total of over 1,200 platforms facing the hurricane force winds that Rita is bringing across the GOM. These platforms in the direct path of this storm represent more than 30% of the offshore installations in the Gulf of Mexico.

On her journey, Rita will start out passing through the frontier areas of Walker Ridge and Keathley Canyon. From there, she will continue to move northwest across the eastern portions of Garden Banks and the western portions of Green Canyon. These two areas contain a total of only about 40 offshore platforms, but all of these are major deepwater projects such as Kerr McGee's Red Hawk spar and ConocoPhillips' Magnolia field.

After passing through these deepwater areas, Rita will begin to push onto the shallower waters of the continental shelf, first reaching the southern additions of South Marsh, Vermillion, East Cameron and West Cameron. Rita is likely to continue across the rest of the West Cameron area and reach large portions of the High Island and Galveston areas before making landfall east of the Houston area.

West Cameron, situated south of Lake Charles, LA to the TX-LA border, is likely to be one of the areas hardest hit by Rita and will most likely see some of the worst damage to its offshore installations. This area is one of the most most actively producing and explored areas in the Gulf of Mexico. It has the third highest number of unmanned offshore platforms and the fifth highest number of manned platforms of any area in the GOM, with a total of 292 unmanned and 88 manned platforms. Additionally, there are a total of 22 mobile offshore drilling rigs in the West Cameron area, including 19 jackups, 2 submersibles, and 1 platform rig. Of those rigs, 10 of them are owned and managed by TODCO, The Offshore Drilling Company, which is the rig manager with the most rigs facing possible damage from Rita.

In addition to 22 rigs located in West Cameron, there are another 50+ rigs in the areas that are likely to be affected by Rita. A total of 16 semisubmersible rigs are located in the Walker Ridge, Garden Banks, and Green Canyon areas that Rita will be passing through late Thursday and early Friday morning. Closer to shore, there are 25 jackup rigs in the areas of High Island, East Cameron, Vermilion, and Galveston that will be catching much of the force of Rita mid-to-late-day on Friday.

If Rita is able to inflict as much damage to the offshore rigs in its path as Katrina was, there will be some fairly serious losses to the Gulf of Mexico rig fleet. Approximately 60 rigs stood in the direct path of Katrina, and of those rigs, 8 were damaged severely or lost enirely. That is about 12% of the rigs in Katrina's path. There were an additional 10 rigs that suffered less severe damages, which amounts to another 15% of the rigs in Katrina's path. There are nearly 80 rigs that stand in the direct path of Rita, with fully 25% of those in the area (West Cameron) that is likely to be hardest hit. So, assuming a similar rate of damage for Rita would lead to an estimate of 9 rigs severely damaged and another 12 rigs suffering lesser damages. That is a significant portion of the GOM rig fleet which is already depleted from the losses suffered by Katrina.

Let's hope and pray that Rita is more of a lady than Katrina.

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