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Oil, gas groups cite readiness for busy hurricane season amid pandemic


NOAA predicting three-five major hurricanes in 2020 season

Hurricane Harvey seen as testing virtual response

  • Author
  • Maya Weber
  • Editor
  • Jason Lindquist
  • Commodity
  • Natural Gas Oil
  • Topic
  • Coronavirus and Commodities

Major oil and gas trade groups Aug. 12 expressed confidence in their readiness for a busier-than-usual hurricane season in 2020, even with added logistical considerations stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has forecast that the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season carries a 70% probability of three to six major storms of Category 3 or higher. A total of seven to 11 hurricanes are expected, during the season that runs from June 1 through November 30, including two to date.

"Our infrastructure is exposed to these storms, especially in the offshore, but operators have taken tremendous steps over the years to improve not only their ability to withstand storms but also how they're able to recover when impacts do occur," said Suzanne Lemieux, American Petroleum Institute manager of operations, security and emergency response policy.

Speaking during a teleconference, Lemieux said the oil and gas industry has already responded to changing scenarios, such as higher levels of storm surge. Companies employ meteorologists, for instance, to track storm formation off the coast of Africa, and allow for early plans to limit operations, she said.

CJ Osman, vice president of operations for the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, also asserted that his groups' members are "prepared to effectively manage any weather-related challenges that may arise." The physical and operational characteristics of the gas system, including the interconnected pipeline network and geographically disbursed gas resources, help ensure that any disruption is "rare, brief and controlled," he said.

"Despite the catastrophic impact that [Hurricane Harvey] caused to the Houston area and other parts of Texas, pipeline operators were able to continue transporting natural gas safely and natural gas distribution systems were available throughout the event," Osman said.

'More ready than normal'

Lemieux did not expect a lot of added challenges posed by the pandemic, and noted that oil and gas industry workers have been considered essential personnel since early on.

"We've been practicing through exercise drills in a virtual world over the last couple of months," she said. "You can set up your emergency operations center [and] run it remotely."

Osman added that restrictions presented by the coronavirus pandemic have "in some ways forced us to develop creative solutions to leverage technology to get work done remotely where we can and to be prepared to be acting in an abnormal environment."

"At least in some ways, we're more ready than normal," he said. Hurricane Harvey in August 2017 prompted operators in Houston to shift to a virtual model, he added.

'Dry run' for virtual response

Jeff Gunnulfsen, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers senior director for security and risk management, agreed that Harvey was akin to a "dry run for greater virtual work that many of our members have to do now." Members now have had months to prepare for the combination of hurricane season and the coronavirus, he said.

Companies are are applying lessons learned from past storms, he said, such as disbursing locations for congregating in event of a hurricane, using new technologies such as drones, and reviewing flood maps.

In light of the pandemic, he also cited efforts to ensure staff backups, temperature checks and tracking of COVID-19 hotspots and where supplies and people are coming from.

All in all, the trade group leaders pointed to a relatively quick recovery and return of affected facilities after Harvey as bolstering confidence this hurricane season.

Given the coronavirus, Lemieux acknowledged that lodging could be a challenge in the event of significant evacuations, but she noted that the oil and gas industry has been functioning as "essential," and that evacuations will be coordinated at the state and local level in conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Administration. For member companies, Gunnelfson said, it is a matter of being aware of what local and state agencies will mandate.