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Offshore Preparation for Shell Gulf Coast Facilities. Learn about the phases of hurricane preparation and response that take place at Shell's offshore facilities in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM).
Shell's Tropical System and Hurricane Priorities
- Ensuring the safety of personnel.
- Protecting the environment.
- Minimizing production and operational impact.
Hurricane preparation and response is managed by Shell’s Hurricane Incident Command Team in the following escalating phases.
Phase I – Ongoing Preparation and Planning
- The Hurricane Incident Command Team plans and conducts evacuation table-top drills in order to prepare personnel, and identify and correct any inefficiencies before there is a need for an actual evacuation.
- The hurricane response plan is evaluated and updated annually, taking into consideration learning’s from the previous year’s activity.
- Generators, batteries, communications systems, and other equipment that will be used during the hurricane are tested prior to hurricane season to ensure they will be operational if needed.
- Shell’s platforms are built to the American Petroleum Institute’s most stringent standards (RP 2A).
- All Mobile Offshore Drilling Units (MODUs), or generically referred to as offshore deepwater drilling rigs, have GPS tracking systems so that if the unit becomes unmoored, it can be found and damaged can be assessed relatively quickly.
Phase II - Tropical System or Hurricane has Formed and is Heading Toward the GOM
- Shell contracts with the private meteorological and forecast firm Impact Weather, which provides up-to-date hurricane information from satellite images and other data. Shell also uses the National Weather Service.
Assessment of projects and personnel
- From the time the storm is identified, meetings are held twice a day (or as needed) by the hurricane incident commander with designated operations managers, drilling superintendents, communications teams, and transport (marine and air logistics support) managers. This team begins the process of assessing the operational activities, people count, and time it will take to safely shut in operations and evacuate personnel.
- In general, once a hurricane or severe storm crosses 60 degrees longitude, the Hurricane Team is fully engaged so that it is able to respond and take appropriate actions swiftly. In addition, systems that develop quickly in or near the Gulf of Mexico constitute an urgent threat, since Shell has facilities all across the GOM.
- Downstream oil and gas infrastructure will also be shutdown as a storm approaches the northern GOM.
- Shell begins evacuating non-essential personnel from offshore platforms and drilling rigs, beginning with sites closest to the developing hurricane’s anticipated path. Non-essential personnel include construction and maintenance workers, caterers and others not directly responsible for producing and/or drilling operations.
- In many instances, Shell has to begin evacuations and production shut-in days before a hurricane is expected to reach a facility. Shell leaders consider numerous factors before making the decision to evacuate and shut-in production.
Most Shell assets are in deep-water, which means it takes longer for helicopters and/or boats to pick up personnel. Shell does not own these helicopters or boats. Contracts are in place for these services throughout the year, with additional resources contracted and dedicated to Shell during the hurricane season to ensure that Shell can safely and efficiently evacuate offshore personnel.
Drilling in deep-water means it takes longer to remove and secure drill pipe from these greater depths.
- Shell has numerous subsea wells. These require special safety, environmental and operational considerations for shutting in and can take as long as four to five days.
- We also conduct deep-water and ultra deep-water drilling operations that may take three to five days to shut-in, but have no production impact.
- In determining who is evacuated at this early stage, consideration is also given to those workers (Shell or contract) whose homes are in the hurricane’s anticipated path.
Phase III – Dangerous Conditions are Anticipated within 72 hours
- Evacuations escalate
o Minimal crews of 16 or fewer essential production personnel per platform remain offshore. This is the crew that will be responsible for final shut down and securing the platform if the hurricane continues to develop and move toward a particular asset in the GOM.
- If needed (based on track of the storm and potential impact), the Hurricane Response Team is relocated to an alternate site, ensuring that there is no interruption in the evacuation, assessment, and recovery processes.
- Begin shutting-in production, curtailing drilling operations and securing installations
o Production is shut-in starting with sub-sea and long-lead wells that require special shut-in procedures.
o All equipment is secured and clamped or tied down.
Phase IV – Hurricane is Imminent
- When a hurricane's arrival is imminent, with production shut-in and facilities secured, Shell evacuates the skeleton crews that remain offshore. Because all personnel not essential to producing and drilling operations will have already left, each platform can be evacuated in a single helicopter flight.
- Shell specific shut-in numbers are not issued externally. Each day, the Minerals Management Service provides an overall GOM production shut-in status, as of the previous day.
Phase V – Storm is Passed
- When it’s safe to fly, operations, drilling and structural engineering personnel will conduct an aerial assessment of damage by airplane.
- If the platform or rig is deemed safe, crews will re-deploy in stages to conduct a more thorough damage inspection.
- Once power and communications are restored, marine logistics support is established and the locations are deemed safe, operations personnel return to platforms and drilling rigs to restart production and recommence drilling activities. Production ramp up at each impacted facility will vary, but complete GOM production ramp up to pre-storm levels may take three to five days, if there is no damage to the facility.
- Upon passage of the storm, the affected segments of the downstream oil and gas infrastructure are pressure tested to ensure integrity. During the testing, helicopter overflights are made to observe the Right-of-Way. In some cases, it may also be necessary to inspect the pipelines/risers with either sonar equipment, a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) or divers. Once the system has been validated and communications restored, the lines are restarted. (Shell stocks a compliment of pipeline repair equipment that can be readily deployed to handle a variety of repair scenarios, if required.)
- With operations restored, the hurricane response team conducts a review to identify process effectiveness and any opportunities for improvement.
Disclaimer: This information is meant to provide a general overview of hurricane procedures. Certain circumstances may require a deviation from the above, in a particular case.
Customers of Shell and its affiliates may have other specific inquiries related to storm or hurricane impacts and should contact their account manager with those questions. Nothing herein shall be construed as a declaration of force majeure. All declarations of force majeure will be made and related notices given in accordance with the provisions of the affected customer contracts.