Weekly Offshore Rig Review: Open Season for Hurricanes

As most people living along the Gulf Coast are aware, today is the official start of the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season. The aftermath of last year's US land-falling Hurricanes Dennis, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma still linger as we head into what most experts predict will be another active hurricane season.

This Year's Hurricane Predictions
According to yesterday's latest predictions from the Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State University, 2006 is set to be an above average year for Atlantic tropical storm activity. The research by Philip J. Klotzbach and William M. Gray predicts a total of 17 named storms for 2006, including 9 hurricanes. Those 9 hurricanes are expected to last an average of 5 days each for a combined total of 45 hurricane days this year. And among those hurricanes, 5 are predicted to reach winds of 111 mph or more.

These predictions follow closely with the 16 named storms and 6 major hurricanes predicted earlier this year by the NOAA.

The report also predicted a 52% chance of a hurricane making landfall somewhere in the United States, with a 38% chance of a landfall in the Gulf of Mexico. As such, it is not likely that this year's hurricane season activity will reach the unprecedented level of activity for 2005. One of the report's authors, Philip Klotzbach noted that "Statistically, the odds of having four major storms make landfall this year are very small."

As a baseline for comparison, over the course of 1950 to 2000, the average number of named storms was 9.6 per year. Of those named storms, an average of 5.9 developed into hurricanes. So, the predictions for the current year are much lower that the number of storms seen last year, they still indicate a 77% increase in named storm activity and a 53% increase in hurricane activity over the 1950 to 2000 averages.

Last Year's Hurricanes
The 2005 hurricane season was the busiest Atlantic hurricane season on record. It resulted in a total of 28 named storms, 15 of which developed into hurricanes. And of those 15 hurricanes, 7 progressed into intense hurricanes with winds in excess of 111 mph.

For the Gulf of Mexico oil and gas industry, the most notable hurricanes were Katrina and Rita which inflicted a great deal of damage to offshore infrastructure. The two hurricanes combined to destroy 115 offshore platforms, while damaging another 52 platforms and 183 undersea pipelines.

  Platforms Pipelines
Hurricane Damaged Destroyed Large (10") Total
Katrina 20 46 36 100
Rita 32 69 28 83
Total 52 115 64 183

As of May 3rd, a total of 324,445 barrels of oil per day were still shut-in, approximately 22% of the GOM's daily oil production of 1.5 million barrels. A further 1.3 billion cubic feet of natural gas production was also still shut-in, approximately 13% of the GOM's daily gas production of 10 bcf.

After the damage inflicted by Hurricanes Ivan, Katrina, and Rita over the last two years, the MMS has worked with the Coast Guard and the oil & gas industry to issue new requirements for improving communications and safety.

In the three major hurricanes of the last two years, a total of 19 deepwater rigs and 9 jackups experienced complete mooring failures and were moved off location. As such, this has been a major area of focus for improvements. Operators and lessees will now be required to file information related to mooring systems when applying for drilling permits, and those applications will be reviewed for their compliance with two new API Recommended Practices, 95J and 95F. For jackups, this focuses mainly on the pre-loading process and the air-gap between the rig and water surface. For deepwater rigs, the new requirements focus on improved mooring design and mitigation of risk, but also require satellite tracking of rig positions.

The MMS has also worked to improve communications between itself, the Coast Guard, and industry companies. From the deployment of new electronic systems to more integration between government agencies, the MMS looks to make the communications during hurricane season run more smoothly.

Looking forward to this new hurricane season, the industry and the country can hope that 2006 will be in line with predicted levels of hurricane activity and not as overactive as 2005, a year in which 15 named storms were predicted but 28 actually occurred.

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