Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Hurricane Isaac Shuts Down Oil Production in the Gulf

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

A man sits on a bench watching the waves on Lake Pontchatrain from Hurricane Isaac on August 28, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Hurricane Isaac is expected to make landfall later tonight along the Louisiana coast.

Nearly all of the oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico have been evacuated because of Hurricane Isaac, according to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). Of the 596 manned platforms in the Gulf, all but 93 have been evacuated as of mid-day today. 49 of the 76 rigs in the drilling area have been evacuated as well.

Curious about the difference between a platform and a rig? Drilling rigs are used to drill for oil, platforms are used to “produce” the oil out of the ground once the well has been drilled.

The Bureau estimates that after all of these evacuations, over 93 percent of the oil production in the Gulf has been shut down. Oil future prices are going up as a result.

So what happens on those rigs when there’s no one there to man them?

The BSEE explains that the crews “shut in” the platforms and rigs before they leave:

“As part of the evacuation process, personnel activate the applicable shut-in procedure, which can frequently be accomplished from a remote location. This involves closing the sub-surface safety valves located below the surface of the ocean floor to prevent the release of oil or gas. During previous hurricane seasons, the shut-in valves functioned 100 percent of the time, efficiently shutting in production from wells on the Outer Continental Shelf and protecting the marine and coastal environments. Shutting-in oil and gas production is a standard procedure conducted by industry for safety and environmental reasons.”

The Bureau says that once Isaac has gone, inspections will take place on the platforms and rigs. If everything is in good shape, production can start back up immediately.


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