Hurricane season is upon us. The time of year from June to October is one for preparation and training, particularly for the operators that man the 3,000 offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM). Due to a mild winter, waters in the Gulf are already warmer than normal. This higher temperature allows for storms to develop and strengthen more quickly. Tropical meteorologists from Colorado State are predicting 11 tropical storms in 2017, four of which could strengthen into hurricanes and two of those are predicted to develop into major hurricanes with winds greater than 110 mph. Anyone that lives or operates near the GOM knows it only takes one to have a devastating effect on lives and the economy.
Oil & Gas companies have established procedures in place to ensure the safety of their workers. Normally, non-essential workers are evacuated and a core group is left behind to perform shutdown operations and secure the platform. This group is then helicoptered to shore and the platform is monitored remotely if possible. This is the most costly time for oil companies. Every day shut-down is millions of dollars lost.
When the storm passes the rigs must be reoccupied and brought back online. Before this can happen the rigs shall be inspected and deemed safe. Hurricanes have caused massive damage to facilities in the past. After Katrina in 2005, it took 600,000 man hours to fix Shell’s Mars platform. Some of the storm damage is obvious to the eye and some structural damage requires a closer inspection. Currently, pre-boarding inspections are accomplished from helicopters and boats. An obvious tool to assist in these inspections is a drone.
A more detailed and comprehensive look at the platform can be accomplished by drone with zero risks to personnel. In only a few hours, the drones can identify dropped object hazards and give a detailed inspection of the helideck, access points and walk-ways. The core crew and inspection teams can board with confidence and begin preparing the platform for operations.
Drones will be an integral part of post-storm inspections this year. Some operators have already included them in their post-hurricane operations plan, and those that have not, most likely will by the end of this season.