As More And Stronger Storms Hit The Gulf, Risks To Old Oil And Gas Infrastructure Grow

There’s a process for decommissioning old oil platforms and pipelines, but the federal agencies in charge are understaffed.

By Michael Marks & Shelly BrisbinSeptember 10, 2021 12:10 pm

After Hurricane Ida slammed into the Louisiana coast a couple of weeks ago, satellite cameras showed images of a huge plume of oil snaking through the Gulf of Mexico. The storm had dislodged something in the thousands of miles of underwater pipe just off the coast. The images of the spill were dramatic, but it was just one of over 350 reported to the U.S. Coast Guard after Ida.

Marianna Párraga is a Houston-based energy correspondent for Reuters. She told Texas Standard that stronger storms, combined with aging energy infrastructure in the Gulf mean that spills and other damage are likely to happen more often in the future. She says decommissioned infrastructure is also a problem.

“Whenever a pipeline is closed or a platform is no longer in operation, the platform has got to be decommissioned, which means it’s got to be severed and cut from the base and withdrawn from the waters of the Gulf,” Párraga said.

Párraga says a report to Congress earlier this year shows that the ability of the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, or BSEE, to supervise infrastructure shutdowns is limited.

BSEE and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) are the two agencies charged with overseeing deep sea energy infrastructure. The BOEM licenses energy facilities, while the BSEE oversees their operations. Párraga says the agencies are understaffed to handle the number of facilities.

“They trust in the information that the operators are giving them,” she said.

As of this year, companies must have “financial assurance” – an insurance policy that provides money for cleanup of decommissioned facilities in the even the business goes bankrupt.

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