Tuesday AM September 2, 2008

image of Gulf oil rigDesign improvements in offshore drilling rigs and production platforms could help them better withstand the effects of hurricanes. But the effects of high water can still be a problem for onshore refineries. Ed Mayberry reports.
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita destroyed 109 producing platforms and five drilling rigs in 2005, and forced shut-ins of 92 per cent of oil output and 83 per cent of natural gas production. But Kenneth Medlock with Rice University's Baker Institute says technological improvements of rigs and platforms have made them more likely to withstand hurricanes.

"A lot of the infrastructure that Katrina and Rita damaged was older infrastructure. The newer infrastructure typically is—you know, I hate to use the word 'hurricane' resistant, but it's a little bit sturdier in that regard, you know, able to withstand bigger wave heights, things of that nature, so you might expect typically a little bit less damage from the same type of storm on newer infrastructure."

image of Huricanes Katrina and Rita in their path of destruction

Gasoline refineries were affected by loss of power in previous hurricanes. Medlock says the worst storm damage at refineries is usually caused by high water.

"You know, that's something that you really can't do anyting about, quite frankly, if the storm were to sort of move up so that a lot of that refinery infrastructure is on the dirty side of the storm, so on the eastern side of the eye, especially if it's slow-moving. You could very well see a lot of flooding that sort of inundates those refineries and any power outages could certainly affect those refineries as well, so there's not a whole lot you can do about that except just weather through it."

Medlock says anticipation of potential damages could cause a spike in prices at the pump. He says if the storm moves through quickly, shut-ins will only last a few days, making minimal price effects.

Ed Mayberry, KUHF Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Ed Mayberry

Ed Mayberry

Local Anchor, All Things Considered

Ed Mayberry has worked in radio since 1971, with many of those years spent on the rock 'n' roll disc jockey side of the business...