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San Jose Mercury News: Ambitious repair project brings back prolific Gulf platform

Associated Press
Posted on Sun, Jan. 21, 2007

HOUSTON – An ambitious repair project has brought back to life the most prolific oil-producing platform in the Gulf of Mexico after it was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

The 36,500-ton Royal Dutch Shell Mars platform is now producing more oil than pre-Katrina.

“The Mars recovery operation is quite a success story,” said Elmer Danenberger, chief of offshore regulatory programs for the Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service.

Shell’s effort to get Mars back on line in just nine months with no major injuries has made the company a contender for the Offshore Energy Achievement Award for project of the year.

Mars sustained massive destruction in 2005 when hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf, a region that produces one-fourth of the nation’s oil and one-fifth of its natural gas.

The storms destroyed 115 of the Gulf’s 4,000 oil and gas platforms and damaged 52 others, the American Petroleum Institute said.

Shell spent $300 million fixing its Gulf infrastructure and covering relocation costs for workers who lost their homes and possessions to the storms. The company declined to specify the costs of Mars’ repairs.

Repairs on Mars, located about 130 miles southeast of New Orleans, included using two massive cranes mounted on a ship to lift the damaged rig substructure. This had to be done without damaging a critical gas processing unit.

Hundreds of welders, riggers, divers and other workers repaired knotted steel and other damage wrought when the rig toppled. The workers were housed in a “floating hotel” brought in from the North Sea.

Shell used a pair of remotely operated robotic submarines to repair two oil and natural gas pipelines 2,700 feet below the surface that transport oil and gas from Mars to shore.

The biggest step left to restore Mars to its pre-Katrina strength is the April return of its drilling rig.

“We worked around the clock, 24 hours a day, seven days a week from November until startup in May. We continue to this day making final repairs and preparations for the return of the rig,” said T.J. Senter, Mars’ offshore operations manager.

Mars, a $1 billion project, went on line in 1996 and sits in 3,000 feet of water. It has five decks on a hull the size of a city block with four round steel legs.

Mars both drills for and produces oil and natural gas.

Before the storm, Mars produced 148,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day and 160 million cubic feet of gas. Now it produces 160,000 barrels of oil and 121 million cubic feet of gas, Senter said.

It has capacity to produce 220,000 barrels, and is partially owned by BP.

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