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Science of oil rigs: surviving Gulf storms

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Currently, the number of US structures in the Gulf is roughly 4,000, with 819 manned platforms. And those numbers are only expected to grow, says Caryl Fagot, a spokeswoman for the federal Minerals Management Service (MMS), which regulates the oil industry in federal waters.

"History shows us progressing further and further offshore as technology improves," she says.

MMS figures show that 94 exploratory wells were completed in the deep-water Gulf last year, up from 74 in 2003.

There are many reasons behind this boom in offshore oil production, says John Felmy, chief economist at the American Petroleum Institute in Washington.

"We've drilled a lot of holes in the rest of the continental US. That, coupled with real limitations to onshore areas and the development of incredible deep-water technology is making the Gulf a tremendous opportunity right now," he says.

This week, his organization will be co-sponsoring the Offshore Hurricane Readiness and Recovery Conference in Houston. The conference will bring together industry, academic, and regulatory experts to discuss lessons learned from hurricane Ivan.

What hurricane Ivan revealed

In May, the MMS commissioned six studies on everything from Ivan's impact on platforms and rigs to its effect on underwater pipelines.

Rick Mercier has been overseeing the Offshore Technology Research Center's work at Texas A&M University in College Station. They have been commissioned to study rig fastening on offshore platforms, and their initial findings show a need for better moorings.

During Ivan, for instance, drilling units were hauled onto platforms and did quite a bit of damage during the storm because they were not properly secured. That particular problem has since been addressed. In addition, all rigs and platforms must now be equipped with a GPS device since several rigs went missing for a day or two after Ivan.

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