New Storm Avoidance Rules for Offshore Rigs

Arnold & Itkin

When Hurricane Ida struck the Louisiana coast at the end of August 2021, it wasn’t just the people on land who were in trouble. The crews of offshore rigs and other maritime vessels in the storm’s path were also in danger, but not all were evacuated in time.

Perhaps the biggest “near miss” of the 2021 hurricane season involved the Globetrotter II, a Noble-owned and Shell Oil-leased drillship that was pounded by 150-mph winds and 80-foot waves while its crew was still on board. Hurricane Ida nearly capsized the rig, and the U.S. Coast Guard was called in to rescue 142 crew members – after they started sharing photos and videos of their harrowing experience.

Why did these crew members endure conditions that put them in fear for their lives? They simply hadn’t been given enough time to disconnect the rig’s low marine riser package (LMRP) and navigate out of the storm’s way.

After the delayed evacuation of the Globetrotter II and other near-disasters, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) established new rules to be implemented in the 2022 hurricane season.

T-Time Reports for the 2022 Hurricane Season

The BSEE, which was established after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster that claimed the lives of 11 crew members and led to the largest marine oil spill in United States history, is tasked with regulating offshore drilling activities. According to the agency’s new storm avoidance rules, offshore drilling companies must now report the time needed to evacuate before a tropical storm or hurricane. This is known as the “T-Time.”

Offshore companies in the Gulf of Mexico must also give ongoing reports to the BSEE regarding how rigs are progressing as they work to shut in wells, which is a time-consuming process that involves disconnecting LMRPs and getting out of a storm’s path.

Evacuating a rig like the Globetrotter II is not an easy or short undertaking. It can take days to plug the well, test the seals to ensure oil will not leak into the ocean, and then lift the multi-million dollar LMRP a mile or more from the sea floor. The Globetrotter II was able to detach its LMRP before Hurricane Ida struck, but it was still dangling about 500 feet below the ship, meaning the vessel could only travel at about one-third of its normal speed. The LMRP ended up snapping off and dropping to the bottom of the ocean.

In 2020, Transocean’s Deepwater Asgard encountered a similar problem. The rig was still attached when Hurricane Zeta passed, pushing the vessel so far that it nearly snapped the riser pipe (which is attached to the LMRP). The Deepwater Asgard was able to detach from the sea floor, but Zeta blew the drillship into shallow waters and its LMRP suffered severe damage.

Requiring offshore companies to report T-Times and provide updates to the BSEE as shut-ins and evacuations progress are steps in the right direction, but are they enough to prevent similar occurrences? The truth is that nothing will change until oil and gas companies begin putting their workers and the environment above profits and productivity goals.

Offshore Companies Are Responsible for Their Crews, Even When Storms Hit

The companies that own, lease, and operate offshore drilling operations and all maritime vessels are obligated to take preventative measures that keep their crews and vessels safe from Mother Nature. This includes having shut-in and evacuation procedures in place, monitoring the weather, training crews on what to do to evacuate or shut in a well, and providing the proper safety equipment in the event of a disaster. The paths of major storms like Hurricane Ida and Hurricane Zeta can be plotted and predicted. Rigs that stand in the way of severe weather should be shut in and evacuated ahead of time, before crews are tossed about and injured or worse.

Arnold & Itkin is currently representing crew members of the Globetrotter II, helping them find justice after their safety was so blatantly disregarded. We successfully represented one-third of the Deepwater Horizon’s crew, as well as three widows of El Faro crew members who were lost in Hurricane Joaquin in 2015. We have fought time and again for offshore workers and seamen who have been injured and lost their lives because of the negligence and greed of drilling companies and other large corporations. We will continue to fight because it’s the right thing to do.

For more information on hurricanes and offshore workers’ rights, see the following blogs:

If you or someone you love has been injured in any type of offshore accident, our maritime lawyers are here to help. Give us a call at (888) 346-5024 or contact us online for a free, confidential consultation.

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