Offshore Hurricane Safety

Hurricane season begins June 1; and the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season outlook issued last week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecasts 8-13 hurricanes, with a couple developing into major hurricanes. Riding out a hurricane on land can be scary, but offshore it can be catastrophic and deadly.

As hurricanes and tropical storms move into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening oil and gas offshore production facilities and drilling rigs, operators begin the process of shutting-in production and evacuating workers. The decision to evacuate an offshore facility is serious and complicated as predicting a storm’s path contains a bit of uncertainty.  When an evacuation happens and the storm changes course or dissipates, it can cost the owner/operator money; but, failing to evacuate when necessary costs lives. When a storm hits a platform, it does not bend. It destroys.

Offshore hurricane evacuation planning becomes more complex as oil and gas production moves farther from the coast and into deeper water, increasing the amount of time it takes to evacuate an offshore facility. In some cases, t-time (the amount of time required to evacuate a platform) can be four or five days. Sometimes this means that an offshore vessel or structure must implement the initial stages of an evacuation plan before a storm even forms

Under maritime law, an employer must exercise reasonable care in the evacuation of its seamen during a hurricane or tropical storm. The employer must take all precautions in predicting storm patterns, likely impact of the storm, and when the storm will arrive.  Having an Emergency Evacuation Plan (EEP) is the first step in protecting offshore workers from an approaching hurricane.

Even on the calmest days, offshore workers are exposed to the perils of the seas, but during hurricane season they are dependent upon maritime employers to make the correct call in a timely manner and not put their lives in jeopardy.