Best Hurricane Escape Plan: Ask Big Oil

As a possibly devastating hurricane appears to head toward the Gulf Coast, an elaborate set of detailed evacuation plans are being set into motion, down to the last helicopter to fly people out.

Who is behind this expensive, military-style movement?

ExxonMobil, Chevron and Shell.

Say what you will about the federal government's past evacuation efforts and its current plans, but don't criticize big oil. The companies have the money, know-how and experience to move thousands of workers from offshore oil platforms and rigs to safety in a matter of days.

Just about every year, the companies with thousands of workers scattered on platforms across the Gulf of Mexico have to do a massive evacuation thanks to the threat of a hurricane.

It's a well-orchestrated operation involving hundreds of helicopters crisscrossing the gulf. And it's all done in what seems like a blink of an eye.

So why are the oil companies so good at this?

It's pretty simple: They have deep pockets, a fleet of helicopters at their disposal and years of practice from routinely shuttling crews to and from the platforms.

And unlike the government, they also know where each and every one of the people they need to evacuate is right now.

Finally, they have a lot to lose either through bad public relations or through personal-injury lawsuits.

"This is not something that is routine, but it is something that the oil industry has done over and over again over the years," said Chevron spokesman Mickey Driver. "Chevron has been operating in the Gulf of Mexico for more than 60 years. Certainly, there is hurricane season every year."

Now as Gustav threatens the gulf, Chevron has more than 3,000 employees and contractors working offshore at almost 400 different locations. They started evacuating nonessential personnel Thursday.

The Minerals Management Service Gulf of Mexico office reported Thursday afternoon that personnel have been evacuated from two of the 717 manned production platforms and one of the 121 rigs currently operating in the gulf.

Oil Workers Evacuate

Shell evacuated 700 people Wednesday and Thursday and plans to remove an additional 600 by Saturday. BP and ConocoPhillips also are starting to move personnel and ExxonMobil is closely monitoring the storm.

The gulf is home to about a quarter of U.S. crude oil production and the majority of natural gas reserves.

Oil prices briefly went up, but then came down on fears about damage to the oil operations.

For its part, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has pre-positioned supplies available for distribution in Gulf Coast states including more than 2.4 million liters of water, 4 million meals, 478 emergency generators, 141 truckloads of tarps and 267 truckloads of blankets and cots.

Experience Pays Off

So how does the company get everybody out before the storm hits?

Chevron is the only oil or gas company in the gulf with a fleet of 30 helicopters and 70 pilots. Once an evacuation order is given, those helicopters take to the air to get workers off platforms as far as 200 miles offshore. A fleet of supply boats is used to evacuate workers at rigs closer to the coast.

The oil companies also have their own metrological staff doing specific forecasts relative to the rigs and platforms. Those reports look at factors including wind speed, the types of waves and intensity of the rain.

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