Royal Dutch Shell Plc  .com Rotating Header Image

Petroleum News: MMS director scolds industry

MMS director scolds industry

Burton blames errant rig anchors for major pipeline damage in Gulf of Mexico; no lives lost, no major pollution from offshore facilities, and sub-sea values held

Ray Tyson

For Petroleum News

U.S. Minerals Management Director Johnnie Burton is clearly unhappy with the damage caused by drilling rigs set adrift in the Gulf of Mexico during last year’s devastating hurricanes. Moreover, the director says MMS is not as prepared as it would like to be going into this year’s hurricane season.

At least some of the 19 drilling rigs that broke from their moorings during Katrina and Rita dragged rig anchors across pipelines causing severe damage, Burton told an industry crowd in early May at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston, Texas.

Errant rigs became an issue after Hurricane Ivan swept through the Gulf of Mexico in 2004, Burton noted, suggesting rig owners and operators did not take the anchor threat seriously.

“We felt strongly, after Ivan, we could see this coming,” she recalled. “But I think some of the industry folks were not quite convinced we had a problem. I think you all know we have a problem now.”

When reports of drifting rigs began filtering in after back-to-back storms Katrina and Rita, “that attracted our attention big time,” Burton asserted. In fact, Burton said her boss at the time, former U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton, was so alarmed she summoned industry representatives to the nation’s capital to address the anchor problem.

“Well, you all rose to the challenge,” Burton said.

Aside from pipeline damage caused by rig anchors, Burton praised industry for its offshore technology and pre-hurricane preparation, including platform evacuations.

“There was no loss of life. There was no major pollution. There were no fires. And all the sub-sea valves held,” she added. “This is showing that your technologies are working and that drilling offshore is not the horrible thing that some folks are making it out to be.”

Anchor studies not complete

However, the problem now is that studies aimed at resolving the anchor situation are not completed with hurricane season just around the corner.

“We had many meetings and worked hard with a group of industry folks, but we are not quite satisfied that we are totally prepared for the next hurricane season,” Burton said. “We’re better prepared than last year, but there are a lot of things that need to be done.”

She explained: “We need to study the (anchor) lines themselves. Do we need them stronger? Do we need them bigger? Do we need more of them? Do we need a different design on the anchors? Whatever it’s going to take … to figure out how mobile drilling units can better keep their station during huge storms.”

MMS last reported that 324,445 barrels per day of Gulf oil remained shut-in, representing 21.63 percent of pre-storm daily production of 1.5 million barrels, while 1.295 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day remained shut-in, representing 12.95 percent of pre-storm daily gas production of about 10 billion cubic feet. These statistics have remained largely unchanged for weeks.

Pipeline damage set at 457

The survey also found that 457 pipelines in the Gulf were directly or indirectly damaged during the hurricanes. This figure is up from 183 damaged pipelines reported earlier. Also, the number of large diameter pipelines of 10 inches or greater damaged was increased to 101 from 64, with 32 returned to service compared to the previous 22 reported.

MMS attributed the lion’s share of remaining shut-in production to Shell’s Mars platform on Mississippi Canyon Block 208, Shell’s Cognac platform on Mississippi Canyon Block 194, Total’s Matterhorn platform on Mississippi Canyon Block 243, and Kerr-McGee’s Red Hawk platform on Garden Banks Block 876.

Of the 113 platforms destroyed by the two hurricanes, four replacement platforms have thus far been proposed by operators and approved by MMS, the agency said, adding that the replacement platforms would take the place of eight destroyed platforms with a pre-storm production of 16,700 barrels per day.

“It’s likely that additional damage will be reported as underwater damage assessments are completed,” said Chris Oynes, MMS regional director for the Gulf of Mexico. “These have been delayed because of overwhelmed support resources, such as diving equipment, support vessels, and remotely operated vehicles, but we are moving ahead as expeditiously as possible under the circumstances.”

Six spills of 1,000 barrels reported

MMS also said that six spills of 1,000 barrels or greater were reported, the largest being 3,625 barrels of condensate reported by the Gulf South Pipeline Co. in the Eugene Island Block 51 area. A total of 146 spills of one barrel or greater were reported in federal waters, 37 of which were more than 50 barrels. No shoreline or wildlife impacts were noted from the spills, MMS said.

With the hurricane season approaching, MMS has added a new feature to its Internet-based eWell Permitting and Reporting System that provides offshore operators “an easier and more reliable access to report their production curtailment, evacuations, and damage before and following a storm.”

MMS launched its eWell Web site in 2004 as a way to expedite operational transactions between offshore operators and MMS district offices. The new hurricane reporting feature incorporates revised requirements under MMS Form-132, Hurricane and Tropical Evacuation and Production Curtailment Statistics Gulf of Mexico OCS Region, and gives access to hurricane damage reports, including platforms, pipelines, rigs and pollution reports.

MMS has scheduled two industry workshops in New Orleans and Houston in June to explain the new electronic hurricane reporting system.

This website and sisters,,,, and, are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia segment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.