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Assessing Damage to Oil Platforms In Gulf of Mexico Proving Difficult

The Wall Street Journal: Assessing Damage to Oil Platforms In Gulf of Mexico Proving Difficult

Posted Tuesday 6 Sept 2005

September 5, 2005 4:59 p.m.

Efforts to assess damage from Hurricane Katrina to the deep-water Gulf of Mexico platforms has been significantly slowed because helicopters are having troubling refueling at sea, leaving the giant platforms out of reach, said a senior official with a company involved with the damage-assessment and -repair effort.

The situation has been compounded by the destruction of helipads in Venice, La., forcing companies to depart from a back-up facility 150 miles to the west.

The status of these giant platforms is vital to oil and natural gas production in the gulf. According to the federal Minerals Management Service, about two-thirds of oil and one-third of natural gas comes from these floating behemoths.

Without helicopters, companies have relied on fly-by observations from fixed-wing aircrafts of their platforms, some of which are up to 180 miles from the shoreline in 10,000 feet of water. This visual inspection yields very little information about how much damage the platforms suffered and when they can restart.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that Royal Dutch Shell PLC’s Mars platform suffered extensive damage, including the collapse of its drilling rig. The entire above-sea section might need to be rebuilt and it could take a year to return it to operation. By itself, Mars, which cost $1 billion for the platform and associated wells, produces about 10% of the oil and gas from the gulf.

Other Shell platforms, including Ursa and Bullwinkle, could take a month to restart, said the official. Shell officials did not return calls seeking comment.

Helicopter flights from Amelia, La., have reached several facilities, including Chevron Corp.’s Genesis and Shell’s Ursa and Ram Powell platforms. Assessment and repair work has begun on those facilities. But deep-water platforms furthest out in the gulf are inaccessible.

As for the underwater pipelines, which serve as umbilical cords delivering oil and gas from these platforms to shore, the officials said: “We don’t anything about them and they don’t know anything about them.”

Pipelines that tie into the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, or Loop, appear to be in the best shape. The Loop is running at 75% capacity and return to normal operations in a week, according to the federal Energy Department.

Pipelines that feed into hubs and processing facilities in Venice and Empire, La., small towns on the tip of Louisiana’s boot could take longer to resume normal operations.

Write to Steve LeVine at [email protected]

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