It’s Monday, it’s June and there is a storm brewing in the Gulf of Mexico. That’s nothing unusual. But the lack of concern about it by some in the oil and gas industry is worrying.
In my Houston office building, we have a number of oil and gas service companies, including one of the world’s largest offshore drilling companies. During a chat, talk turned to the deteriorating weather, and that overnight Shell had ordered the evacuation of non-essential Gulf of Mexico personnel as a low-pressure system moved into the area. I thought it was a prudent move. My friends thought it was an overreaction, speculating that Shell is being overly cautious due to the continuing controversy over its activities offshore Alaska.
That worried me because that sort of thinking exposed me to two bouts of severe weather in the Gulf of Mexico. In the first, a tropical cyclone developed pretty rapidly off Mexico. There was time to evacuate but the higher ups did not want to shut in production and forego revenue. The storm had not shown its full strength, so we stayed, huddled in the quarters of a drilling and production platform in the High Island area. Our wind gauge broke at a wind speed of 94 mph. While we had no casualties, it was truly frightening as the platform moved dramatically and the sounds of high winds and flying equipment made conversation difficult.
The second instance, about a year later in 1980, turned out a bit worse. This time a full-blown hurricane was bearing down on another drilling and production platform where I was working. Again, onshore management put off making a decision to evacuate until the last minute. When the decision was made to secure the platform for the approaching storm, it bit into the time we had left to make it out safely. The last of us got off the platform and headed to shore about an hour ahead of the leading edge of Hurricane Jeanne in an 89’ crewboat.
We made the several-hour (it seemed like an eternity) trip in high seas, bouncing off the walls, overhead and deck. Many were too seasick to care much and most were bruised badly. As we passed the breakwater at the entrance to the Calcasieu River, where the water calmed, two rig crew members, unable to stand being onboard any more, jumped overboard and climbed on breakwater rocks. Both were later rescued, with broken limbs. And we were lucky. There were worse experiences in the Gulf that year, and in the years before and after.
Perhaps I am being overly cautious, but having seen it firsthand, I applaud Shell’s move. Better to be safe than sorry they say.