Offshore floating and fixed platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere operate in a complex environment. These structures are highly susceptible to wind gusts, choppy waves, loop currents, and extreme weather such as hurricanes. These conditions intensify platform operators challenges of profitable exploration while protecting the environment and ensuring the safety of personnel.
The Atlantic hurricane season in 2020 has been a very busy one. This year, 12 out of 29 storms made landfall in the United States, and at least 8 of them cut through the Gulf of Mexico. Each facility experienced wind and wave forces from more than one storm in this hurricane season. Moreover, it appears that no offshore structure was more than 100 nautical miles away from any named storm, putting assets at risk.
Figure 1: Hurricane 2020 activity in Gulf of Mexico
When such storms are predicted to pass near these structures, the personnel are evacuated a few days in advance from them. Re-manning the platform after the passage of the storm will depend on the conditions experienced by the platform during the storm. If the platform is subjected to hurricane force winds, additional inspections and checks need to be performed before the platforms can be re-manned safely. All this time away from production has associated costs and ultimately impact the profitability.
During hurricanes, standardised evacuation procedures are followed, and the main power supply is turned off. At this point emergency generators or auxiliary power systems power only the essential services. We provided products such as Integrated Marine Monitoring Systems (IMMS) and Independent Remote Monitoring Systems (IRMS) that become the eyes and ears of these facilities, keeping operators informed and ready to respond as events unfold. As the name suggests, IMMS and IRMS collect environmental data such as wind, barometric pressure, air temperature, relative humidity and the position and motions of the structures. IMMS systems collect data from many other sub-systems such as mooring, riser, tank levels, hull stresses to name a few. IRMS systems can also collect pictures and videos and transmit the data via satellite and can remain powered for days from its own power source. The monitoring system data is transmitted on shore to our data management and exploration platform, BMT Deep.
Soma Maroju, Business Unit Manager – Data Services, BMT commented:
“Hurricane season 2020 was remarkable. Personally, years of work put into tuning BMT Deep to support during such events was tested. It is rewarding to see how we could work closely across teams and support our customers through these events in near real time. It also provided us plenty of feedback and opened our eyes to what can be improved.”
Often, some sensors that measure important information are not powered using the auxiliary power as the power requirement from them may not be practical to support. There may be other practical challenges like running long cables, communications and recording the data.
But it is important to ensure these monitoring systems are in working condition before the personnel evacuate the platforms. In addition to ensuring a proper evacuation procedure is followed, regular maintenance of the monitoring system must also be conducted in advance of the hurricane season. Often, plans can change due to other operational constraints on the facilities. Therefore, it is important to plan the activities to be performed during a service trip. Our experienced instrumentation systems and data services teams work together and plan before a service visit to the platform.
Figure 2: Monitoring Systems Performance Dashboard
Andrew Aldrich, Head of Instrumentation Services Business Unit, BMT commented:
“It was certainly an extra-ordinary season this year. Intense storm activity on a backdrop of COVID-19 restrictions. It proved a real test for our systems, offshore teams and customer operations. Our system performance was excellent, with steady streams of data being fed across a large customer network. The value of the system and the hard work of the site teams really shone through. The close contact with our customer, night and day, also led to a great deal of learning that we can take into future seasons and continuously improve data quality, availability and timing.”
Few notable observations made during the recent hurricane season include overall improvement in the amount of good quality data collected compared to the busy hurricane season a decade ago. In the past, most data during the peak of the storm was missed as the systems did not receive any power. Also, the tools to view the data and monitor the performance have improved. More importantly, teamwork prevailed – our customers actively engaged with our teams and worked diligently to improve the resilience of the systems. Post hurricane season, our team started gap analysis by collecting and analyzing various aspects of the monitoring systems from over 35 facilities spread across the Gulf of Mexico to assess the performance during the storms. The questions that our team tried to answer include:
Figure 3: Data availability by Device
The results from these analyses are then in turn carefully examined by our engineers for each facility. This exercise will allow us to work with the operators and come up with a solution that mitigates the risks around the next hurricane season to help protect their assets and minimise disruption. Our goal is to collaborate with the operators and ensure that timely insights are available for actions for the next active hurricane season so that they can ensure profitable exploration, whilst protecting the environment and ensuring the safety of personnel.