Energy Companies Better Prepared for Hurricanes Post-Katrina

U.S. energy companies that operate in the Gulf of Mexico are better-prepared to keep petroleum and natural gas supplies flowing if hurricanes hit this year than they were during the disastrous season of 2005, U.S. government and industry officials said Wednesday.

Red Cavaney, president of the industry group American Petroleum Institute, said many more U.S. refiners now have backup power generation "to avoid significant disruption to fuel delivery and distribution."

Cavaney said pipeline operators have also installed backup electric power generation to keep pumping stations that pull petroleum products like gasoline through the pipelines working.

Walter Cruickshank, deputy director of the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service which oversees offshore energy production, said the government has "significantly improved protection of oil and gas production in the Gulf from disruptions during this hurricane season."

In 2005, hurricanes Katrina and Rita tore through the heart of the U.S. oil patch in the Gulf of Mexico, toppling 113 offshore platforms, smashing up undersea pipelines and shutting down about a quarter of U.S. oil refining capacity.

The resulting disruption in gasoline supplies sent pump prices skyrocketing to record highs at the time of above $3 a gallon.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. government's top climate agency, has forecast an active hurricane season for the Atlantic Ocean in 2007.

This year's hurricane season, which officially starts on June 1 and typically peaks between Aug. 1 and late October, could spawn up to 10 Atlantic hurricanes.

Three to five of those could be major ones of Category 3 or higher, with winds exceeding 110 mph, the agency said in its annual forecast issued last week.

NOAA had forecast an active 2006 hurricane season for the Atlantic Ocean, but no hurricanes hit the Gulf Coast after 2005's record-breaking levels.

The U.S. government issued new regulations in 2006 that required mobile offshore drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico to be 50 percent stronger, after 2005's hurricanes plowed more than 100 of them into the sea.

The MMS was worried that the estimated 70 mobile rigs in the Gulf of Mexico were prone to break free of their moorings during hurricanes. The 70 mobile rigs are among the estimated 4,000 total offshore drilling platforms active in the U.S. Gulf.

That's because they can wreak havoc with a delicate network of undersea pipelines that carry crude oil and natural gas to shore.