How a Rig Prepares for a Hurricane
Despite being built to withstand the ocean's fury, hurricanes can be disastrous for oil rigs and offshore oil platforms. In the Gulf of Mexico alone, the industry relies on hundreds of rigs to shrug off the disastrous effects of multiple hurricanes every season. To compensate for the great strain put on these rigs by hurricanes, supervisors must follow strict processes and safety procedures to minimize damage and prevent loss of life.
Hurricane preparation policies are haunted by the memory of the Alexander Kielland—a Norweigan drilling rig that capsized during a storm in March 1980. The disaster led to the death of 123 workers. Since the Kielland's destruction, companies have been careful to evacuate their rigs if there's a remote possibility that a hurricane will rage through their oilfield.
According to drilling experts, a rig is secured for a hurricane by putting four extra support systems in the ground and attaching it to the rig. Four support anchors are attached to the four corners of the rig before hurricane season approaches. For precautionary measures, many companies will attach two extra anchors between two of the corner anchors, so in total the rig has eight anchors holding it to the ocean floor. These support systems are to ensure the stability of the rigs.
Once anchored, rigs follow strict procedure when a hurricane approaches:
- Evacuation: Before a tropical storm nears a rig, companies evacuate non-essential workers and begin to secure and shut down the rig.
- Shut-Down: Once evacuated, production is shut down.
- Location Monitoring: Officials are able to monitor the rigs’ locations during a hurricane and track the rig if it is moved by the storm.
- Flyovers: Once a storm has passed, companies will evaluate rigs from the air and assess damage from a helicopter.
- Assessment: Operators physically assess offshore facilities for damage.
- Restarting: If no damage is done, the rig will restart production and return to normal operation.
Owners and operators of offshore platforms are responsible to care for the safety of their employees and ensure the safety of the work environment before and after a hurricane. Delaying evacuation and shutdown for an extra day of production gambles with the crew's lives—it's unacceptable.
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