Oil Facilities in Gulf Defenseless Against Katrina's Fury

ByABC News
September 19, 2005, 6:23 PM

GULF OF MEXICO, Sept. 19, 2005 — -- While Hurricane Katrina destroyed less than 2 percent of the crucial oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, oil production is down more than 50 percent because the damage to the oil industry is much deeper.

With waves 70 feet high and winds of 175 mph, Katrina inflicted massive damage to rigs in the Gulf. With fallen antennae and buckled platforms, some rigs are so battered they won't be pumping again for a long time, if ever.

Capt. Frank Paskewich, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard in New Orleans, took ABC News for an exclusive first look over the Gulf at the damage wrought by Katrina.

"That is the lifeblood of the industry," said Paskewich. "That's where you get supplies, you change the crews out, you get equipment that is needed to support daily operations, and when that is severely damaged, then you basically cut off the supply."

The damage is so extensive, Paskewich said, that some of the platforms are now lying on the Gulf floor.

It remains unknown how badly Katrina damaged the underwater oil pipeline system, but a preliminary count has found that of 140 damaged platforms in the Gulf, more than 40 are beyond repair.

All along the Mississippi River below New Orleans, it is evident how Katrina has hobbled the oil industry. Storage tanks have been knocked off their foundations, and oil refineries sit idle -- at least four will be inoperable for months. Spill crews have scrambled to clean up six different oil spills.

The only road to the region is still underwater in parts, and some areas are blocked by massive fishing boats, which were tossed around by Katrina. Many of the homes in the region, which belonged to oil workers, have been destroyed.

Oil production in the region is already off by 24 million barrels. With Tropical Storm Rita headed to the Gulf, there will be more delays in getting the platforms running. In the coming months, Hurricane Katrina will batter much more than the Gulf Coast, as fuel supplies are tight and prices remain high.

ABC News' Jeffrey Kofman filed this report for "World News Tonight."