Offshore Platform Hurricane Preparedness
The 2022 Atlantic hurricane season officially begins next week, but a low-pressure system that formed in the Gulf of Mexico on May 22 had officials monitoring the area for a potential tropical storm. While this particular area of low pressure is not expected to develop into anything more serious than some heavy rain across the southeastern United States, it serves as a reminder that hurricanes and other severe weather are now to be expected in the Gulf and throughout the Atlantic.
The official Atlantic hurricane season lasts from June 1 through November 30, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts another active year. According to the 2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook, the NOAA predicts 14 to 21 named storms, 6 to 10 hurricanes, and 3 to 6 major hurricanes (category 3 or higher). This marks the seventh consecutive year that the NOAA has predicted a higher-than-average hurricane season.
Offshore platforms, shipping, and other maritime activities cannot simply cease for six full months. Instead, companies must prepare for tropical storms, hurricanes, and other severe weather. For offshore platforms, this requires a specific combination of planning, training, and equipment. It’s necessary for the protection of every crew member who works on a platform or drilling rig.
Offshore platform hurricane preparedness involves:
- The development and implementation of hurricane response plans, which should be evaluated and updated every year based on the previous year’s storms.
- Testing emergency equipment like GPS tracking systems, communication systems, batteries, generators, and other gear that would be used before, during, or after a hurricane.
- Obtaining up-to-date weather information from the National Weather Service, private meteorological firms, and onboard devices to track hurricane activity.
- Activating the hurricane response plan once a storm is predicted to threaten the area where an offshore rig is located.
- Evacuating non-essential personnel from drilling rigs and platforms that are in a hurricane’s expected path and those nearby that may be impacted by the storm.
- Shutting down and securing offshore drilling operations, which may include removing and securing the drill pipe, clamping down all equipment, and otherwise preparing the platform or rig for rough weather and seas.
- Evacuating essential personnel after shut-in, which should be able to be completed within one helicopter trip, as it would just be a skeleton crew remaining.
- After the hurricane has passed, returning the platform to normal operations as safely as possible. First, the rig would be assessed by fly-over inspection, then in-person to determine if there is any damage and if operations can resume.
When Oil & Gas Companies Do Not Prepare for Hurricanes
Maintaining offshore oil production is important, but not at the cost of workers’ lives. Oil and gas companies should have hurricane response plans in place well before the season hits. They should update these plans every year to make sure they are mitigating all risks, not just to production and the environment, but also to the hard-working men and women who are responsible for operating their platforms, rigs, refineries, and plants.
When companies do not prepare for hurricanes – which will come every year – the damage can be catastrophic. During the 2021 hurricane season, the drillship Globetrotter II nearly capsized as she was battered by 80-foot swells and winds of up to 150 mph. Her crew of over 100 people thought they were going to die, spending days being tossed about the vessel before they were evacuated by the Coast Guard. This terrifying ordeal left many people wondering why Shell (who was leasing the vessel) or Noble (who owned the vessel) hadn’t evacuated the crew before Ida hit. Our attorneys are representing several of the Globetrotter II’s injured crew members.
The Globetrotter II is just one example of a vessel that was not evacuated before a hurricane. There are many other tragedies, like the loss of the El Faro and her 33-person crew after she steamed into the eyewall of Hurricane Joaquin in 2015, or the capsizing of the Seacor Power in severe weather off the Louisiana coast in 2021, leading to the loss of 13 of her 19-person crew.
Maritime employers and oil and gas companies need to do better. Tracking hurricanes and severe weather has never been done with such accuracy. While Mother Nature can still be harsh and volatile, meteorologists can predict when and where most storms will hit. Companies must not only put hurricane preparedness first but must be willing to halt production and evacuate crews before they become victims of Mother Nature’s might.
Arnold & Itkin has an unmatched record of helping offshore workers and families who have had their lives upended by hurricanes and severe storms. We helped three widows of the El Faro crew members find answers and overcome the defendants’ attempts to avoid responsibility. With every client we represent, we put in the work to help them see justice served. No matter what.
To find out more about hurricane preparedness and offshore platforms, and your rights if you or someone you love has been affected by a severe storm, call our offshore injury lawyers at (888) 346-5024. We’re here to help.