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Helipad damages hampering restoration of offshore US Gulf oil and gas production

Highlights

About 80% of US Gulf oil production now offline

Shell building temporary crew-change heliport

Bristow Group counts several damaged facilities

BHP relocates Fourchon shorebase to Galveston

Heliport and marine terminal damages from Hurricane Ida are hampering crew transportation and the aerial assessments of deepwater US Gulf platforms, slowing the process to return the oil and gas production shut ahead of the Category 4 storm's landfall.

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While a weaker storm may see producers begin to return oil and gas flows a day or two after it passes, the downtime after Ida, which made landfall Aug. 29 packing winds of 150 mph, will drag on longer because of the devastating wind strengths and the extensive damages to terminals and heliports used to access the offshore facilities.

However, three days after Ida's landfall, a surprising amount of production that had been offline for the better part of a week has now been restored in the US Gulf, according to the US' Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement in its daily update.

On Sept. 1, 1.455 million b/d of oil in the US Gulf remained shut-in, or about 80%. That compares with nearly 94% the day before.

Also, 1.87 Bcf/d of natural gas remained shut-in, or 83%, compared with 94.5% the day before.

Some 249 platforms, or a little more than 44% of the US Gulf's total, were offline Sept. 1, compared to 278 the day before.

Late Aug. 31, Shell said it plans to establish what it called a "temporary crew-change heliport," since the primary crew-change heliport in Houma, Louisiana suffered "significant damage" during the storm.

"Crew changes to and from assets will not occur until the temporary heliport has been established," Shell said.

Houma, including the Port of Terrebonne and the Houma Navigation Canal, was one of the hardest hit areas by the storm.

The company's Perdido production hub in the far southwest Gulf near Mexican territorial waters, and the Stones field which produces into the Turritella floating production storage and offloading vessel, are Shell's only US Gulf assets online, it said.

Shell said it completed one damage assessment flyover thus far- the Mars, Olympus and Ursa platforms are all intact and on location - and had another one planned soon to check the rest of its facilities.

CHEVRON FACILITIES APPEAR 'UNDAMAGED'

Also Sept. 1, Chevron said it has conducted overflights to assess its offshore facilities in the Gulf of Mexico, which "appear to be undamaged."

Also, "where it is safe to do so, Chevron has begun to redeploy personnel to provide closer assessments of these facilities and restore production, when possible," the company said.

Chevron continues to conduct post-storm assessments at our other onshore facilities. Also, Fourchon terminal and Empire terminal and their related pipeline systems remain shut-in, the company said.

BHP and Hess said they continue to separately assess their facilities.

"Based on initial assessments, BHP confirms that no damage has been identified on the Shenzi platform," company spokeswoman Judy Dane said. "Our remobilization efforts have begun and should be completed by the end of the day" -- Sept. 1.

Also, "we have temporarily relocated our shorebase from Port Fourchon to Galveston [Texas] and are in the process of setting up operations," Dane said.

As far as production restart, timing is still to be determined and contingent on midstream/downstream factors, she added.

One of the principal helicopter transport and damage assessment companies operating in the US Gulf, Bristow Group, said "several" of its facilities were damaged by Ida. Bristow has Louisiana locations in Houma, Galliano, Golden Meadow, New Orleans and Venice, all directly in Ida's path.

"We continue to assess the damage and implement our recovery plans," said Bristow spokesperson Adam Morgan in a Sept. 1 emailed statement. "We won't provide specific details to the extent of damage or our specific plans for repair. We are working on restoring normal operations as soon as practicable while focusing on the safety of flight and personnel."

"We will continue to work with our clients to help them assess the impact of Hurricane Ida on their facilities and bring their operations back online and transport personnel back offshore," Morgan added.

Likewise, Ida made a direct hit with its landfall at Port Fourchon, which is a major hub for maritime traffic to and from offshore facilities, and the associated Louisiana Offshore Oil Port.

SIZABLE PORT FOURCHON DAMAGES

Port Fourchon entered into "recovery mode" as of Aug. 31, but there were still substantial damages, and tenants are not yet being allowed in to assess damages. The port will soon initiate a phased-in approach for allowing tenants to enter once the roadways are cleared of debris, Executive Director Chett Chiasson said in a statement. It remains well too early for providing restart timelines, but there is optimism that truly catastrophic damage was avoided, he said.

"While damaged, we are hopeful in the fact that a lot of key infrastructure remains and looks to have stood up well to the onslaught of this historic hurricane," Chiasson said

Onshore, the recovery will depend more on electricity restoration. More than 2 million b/d of crude oil refining capacity was closed down ahead of Ida, and refineries are only restarting where power is returning more quickly, such as ExxonMobil's Baton Rouge complex.

Fortunately for the industry, there are alternate routes for transportation outside Port Fourchon and Houma where helicopters can provide services, S&P Global Platts Analytics analyst Sami Yahya said. These include Abbeville and Galliano, and elsewhere in Houma, among others.

"I think it will depend on the company and its resources that will determine its ability to send workers back offshore," Yahya said. "This may not be a huge constraint after all."

"A major energy company like Shell will likely be able to secure transportation without much trouble," he said. "Also, you typically need a small crew - usually just supervisors and some essential workers - to send back offshore to do the inspections, so you're not having to airlift thousands of workers right away."

An even bigger issue than flying and transportation is the availability of workers if a producer's family is impacted by the hurricane, said Yahya.

More than 1 million electricity customers remained without power as of early Sept. 1, primarily in the New Orleans metro area.