The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), a unit of the Interior Department, recently issued a new requirement for oil rigs to be more prepared for the 2022 hurricane season. Oil rig owners must now report the time needed to evacuate crewmembers and send progress reports of shutdowns as tropical storms approach. This comes in the wake of a steady increase of several near misses of hurricane explosions in 2020 and 2021.
Oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico are susceptible to hurricane disasters. When a hurricane makes a direct hit on the rig, there is a possibility it can explode. This is especially the case when rig owners do not properly shut down operations in time, in order to maximize profits.
Hurricane safety precautions are absolutely necessary to protect crewmembers on offshore oil rigs.
In one of the deadliest offshore oil disasters in U.S. history, BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana in 2010, killing 11 crew members and injuring 17 others. The explosion also caused a huge oil spill in the Gulf, the environmental effects of which are still felt today. BP spent tens of billions of dollars settling lawsuits and cleaning up the mess. Investigators found that BP was badly behind schedule drilling the well, so it cut corners for safety to finish up quickly.
Just this year, an offshore drilling unit lost 11 marine riser joints and a lower marine riser package, polluting the Gulf of Mexico, in a failed attempt to evacuate the area from Hurricane Ida. The BSEE identified that the rig had delayed evacuation procedures during the encroaching storm, poor operational decisions, and equipment breakdowns.
In 2020, an oil rig company was sued for negligence by failing to move their oil rig quickly enough to get out of a hurricane’s path in the Gulf.
Oil rig platforms are usually designed to withstand both gale force winds and severe weather, including a Category 5 hurricane. The national standards are defined by regulations from the BSEE. Standard preparations include mandatory evacuation of non-essential personnel, regular warnings and updates on impending storms, suspension of all drilling operations, activating the shut-in procedure to close the sub-surface safety valves, and closing wells. Oil rig operators also need to have the right amount of “T-Time” (the time needed to secure wells safely, pull risers, prepare the ship for transit, and evacuate the weather event). Oil rig crews often evacuate from hurricanes departing by helicopter and leaving a few crew members to ride out the storm. However, some oil rig companies skirt safety procedures and do not give themselves enough time to evacuate, shut in the wells, secure equipment, and protect remaining crewmembers.
The new regulation will require oil rig owners to report their T-Time during the hurricane and send regular updates of how rigs are progressing with safety procedures.
If you or your loved ones have been affected by an offshore oil rig accident, we are here to help.