For most of the year, the Gulf of Mexico is a nice place to be. It has warm waters; it doesn’t have ice or winter storms. All things considered, if you insist on attaching spindly structures to the ocean floor to drill for a highly flammable substance, the Gulf of Mexico is one of the less inhospitable places to do so.
But then there is hurricane season, when all that pent-up heat in the water threatens to turn into 100-mph winds and 12-foot storm surges. So here we are in August, with Hurricane Harvey heading toward the coast of Texas. In addition to causing serious flooding and power outages, the hurricane could deal a major blow to the country’s oil and gas operations.
Offshore drilling in the Gulf accounts for 17 percent of America’s crude oil production, and the Gulf coast has 45 percent of its refining capacity. In preparation for Harvey, ExxonMobil has announced it is reducing output at its platform in the Gulf; Royal Dutch Shell and Anadarko Petroleum have already evacuated employees from their platforms. Mobile drillships will be relocated and the drilling operations shutdown. Hurricane Harvey’s current projected path is not a direct hit on the densest area of offshore platforms and refineries, but paths are always hard to predict. It is time to wait and hope for the best.