According to the National Hurricane Center, Hurricane Ike has left Cuba as a Category 1 hurricane and is traveling northwest at a clip of 8 mph. Located 145 miles north of the western tip of Cuba and 430 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River (latitude 23.9 north, longitude 85.3 west), the storm is expected to travel "across the central Gulf of Mexico for the next 24 to 48 hours."
According to a NHC release at 8 a.m. EDT on Sept. 10, Hurricane Ike currently maintains sustained wind speeds of 85 mph in a 35-mile radius. Tropical storm-force winds extend 175 miles from the eye of the storm. Weather experts predict that the storm will strengthen into a "major hurricane" while traveling through the central gulf.
AccuWeather has predicted that the storm is destined to strengthen to a Category 3 storm at the least, and expects the storm to make landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast near Corpus Christi by late Friday night.
The oil and gas industry's commitment to safety and security has been tested as of late. With production just ramping back up after the passing of Hurricane Gustav, companies have had to almost immediately shut-in production again for Hurricane Ike. (UPDATED to reflect Sept. 10 afternoon information from the MMS) The most-recent account from the Minerals Management Service reported that staff has been evacuated from 452 production platforms (63.0%) and 81 rigs (66.9%) – and that 95.9% of the oil production and 73.1% of the natural gas production has been shut-in as a precautionary measure for Hurricane Ike.
Starting on Sunday, Sept. 7, Shell began evacuations from its offshore GOM facilities. By Monday, the oil and gas super-major had already evacuated 150 employees and had made the decision to complete "a full evacuation of personnel from Shell-operated facilities on Wednesday (Sept. 10), in advance of Ike." By the evening of Tuesday, Sept. 9, Shell reported that they had evacuated 193 offshore personnel, with the remaining 47 workers coming ashore Sept. 10. All Shell-operated production has been shut-in, except for natural gas from the Fairway Field.
Anadarko reported that it is evacuating all of its 600 personnel from its facilities in the GOM and will shut-in all of its operated production, including that from Independence Hub, by Wednesday, Sept. 10. Starting production in July 2007, Independence Hub is the largest natural gas processing facility in the gulf with a production capacity of 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day, which accounts for 10% of all the natural gas produced in the GOM.
Energy giants ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips have also issued similar reports. ExxonMobil is "evacuating personnel from those offshore facilities expected to be in the path of the storm," while ConocoPhillips is in the process of evacuating its Magnolia platform.
After the devastation of the 2005 hurricane season, the oil and gas industry has been developing new and reevaluating established safety procedures and structure design standards in an effort to be better prepared for major storms in the GOM. According to the MMS, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita threatened 22,000-33,000 miles of offshore pipeline and 3,050 to 4,000 production platforms, destroying 115 platforms and damaging another 52.
Learning from this, the American Petroleum Institute reports that the industry realized that the deeper areas of the gulf, where many of its biggest producing fields are located, experienced higher waves and stronger winds. Because of this, experts no longer consider the GOM a uniform body of water and note that the central gulf "is now seen as more hurricane-prone because it can be a gathering spot for warm currents that can strengthen the storms."
In the last three years, the industry, headed by the MMS, has reviewed and revised design standards of floating structures, mooring systems, jackups, tie-downs and offshore structures in general, as well as set up measures to better track the storms and disseminate information.
"Energy production from the Gulf is vital to our nation's energy supply, and it's imperative that MMS continues our strong emphasis on preparations to reduce the risk of an extended disruption of energy production from the Gulf," said MMS Deputy Director Walter Cruickshank.
Across the GOM, the oil and gas industry has prepared for the worst and is taking every measure to ensure the safety of personnel and environmental security.
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