Aboard Anadarko’s Independence Hub — When you last showered, 2 percent of the natural gas that heated your water likely came from this bright-yellow platform in the Gulf of Mexico. Painted like a lemon to ward off errant ships and aircraft, this leading-edge installation proves that America can produce far more of its own energy — innovatively, safely, and cleanly — if we just stop scaring ourselves into paralysis.
The Independence Hub, or I-Hub, is a joint venture among Anadarko Petroleum, Enterprise Products Partners, and Helix Energy. I toured their $2 billion facility Tuesday on a trip sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute.
After a 65-minute helicopter ride from New Orleans’s Louis Armstrong Airport, across the serpentine tributaries and fragmented marshland of the Mississippi Delta, landing on the rig reveals a surprisingly tranquil scene. Little more than a high-pitched hiss pierces a refreshingly cool ocean breeze this sunny morning. Huge pipes, valves, vents, and massive chains are abundant, yet orderly and nearly spotless. Overhead, what looks like the Olympic flame sits atop a tall red-and-white tower. This giant pilot light would ignite any natural gas that might get vented during an emergency.
Around the clock, an all-male 18-member crew swaps 12-hour shifts. They spend two weeks on the rig, then two off. They bunk four to a room, each equipped with lavatory and satellite TV. Separate quarters exist for female employees. They are rare, but not unheard of, in this business.
I-Hub is the world’s most productive natural-gas processing station. Its capacity of 1 billion cubic feet equals 12 percent of total Gulf output. It delivers enough gas to satisfy the needs of 5 million American homes, or about 2 percent of U.S. demand.
I-Hub won Engineering Project of the Year at December’s Platts Global Energy Awards in New York. And for good reason.
Sitting in 8,000 feet of water, a world record, I-Hub taps 16 wells in 10 discovery fields via 10- to 45-mile-long umbilical lines. They’re too deep for scuba divers to install or maintain, so workers on the surface perform these tasks using joysticks that control underwater robots.
Umbilical lines, shown here in cross-section,
carry production chemicals to subsurface wells and
extract them, along with natural gas, plus computerized
production data from underwater sensors.
After the gas is brought to the surface, I-Hub propels it through an underwater pipeline to an onshore processing facility in Louisiana, 134 miles away.
I-Hub went online in July 2007. “It took just four years from discovery to production,” says Anadarko engineer Bob Buck. “It would take about three years for a new discovery to be tied in to the platform and begin production.” This torpedoes the argument that “oil and gas development takes a decade or more, so why start now?”
Anadarko constantly stresses safety. Hard hats and steel-toed boots are as ubiquitous as alcohol is unseen. Random drug tests are routine, as are sensors that identify potentially explosive leaks. In an emergency, this entire enterprise could be shut down in 45 seconds, including remotely sealing gas wells beneath the ocean floor. During hurricanes, the crew halts production and evacuates to shore. After Hurricane Ike blew by last September, I-Hub resumed operations in just 72 hours.
Massive chains help tether I-Hub
to the ocean floor, 8,000 feet below.
I-Hub’s “captain” is Barry Banes, a mustachioed, strong, silent type from Mississippi who has spent 30 years in offshore production, 28 of them with Anadarko. Throughout that time, the foreman says, “We went from very basic-type processes to very sophisticated computer-operated processes. It actually changes before your eyes. The technology that we have today, it’s probably improved the safety aspect of these facilities ten-fold over the last 20 years.”
Not far from the Ole Miss and Houston Astros pennants on the common room’s walls, Banes stands beside a plaque marking the 200,000 man hours that Anadarko functioned offshore without a lost-time accident, between August 3, 2004, and April 8, 2006.
Banes proudly notes that I-Hub undergoes annual inspections from the private American Bureau of Shipping and the federal Minerals Management Service and the U.S. Coast Guard. “So far,” says Banes, “we never have had a single incident of non-compliance since we’ve been here.”
The author greets Barry Banes (left),
I-Hub’s offshore installation manager.
(Photo: Reid Porter)
“Most of the people I know think I work on a boat,” Banes adds. “They don’t understand that we actually have a gas-producing plant out here and that we produce in a very clean environment. We are very conscientious about the environment — probably more so than anything else.”
Unless you sail by on your yacht, I-Hub won’t ruin your ocean view or mar a romantic sunset. Thanks to Earth’s curvature, objects 12 miles from the beach vanish over the horizon. I-Hub is some 100 miles from the nearest shore, at Venice, La., thus nullifying fears of visual pollution.
I-Hub filters seawater it collects during production and then returns it to the Gulf. From barnacles upward, sea life seems pleased with its new neighbor.
“We sometimes see pods of sperm whales feeding on schools of fish that are naturally attracted to I-Hub’s substructure,” says Anadarko spokesman Matt Carmichael. “People fish for yellowfin tuna around our offshore facilities. You have recreational fishermen and even commercial fishermen taking advantage of these mini-ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Of course, I-Hub’s chief product is natural gas, something environmentalists once hailed for its low emissions (including limited carbon-dioxide output, for those who consider CO2 evil). But now, perhaps because it technically is a hydrocarbon, drillophobic greens have gone cold on gas.
These resources mean jobs. The American Energy Alliance reported in February that if Congress allowed oil and gas production on the Outer Continental Shelf, the U.S. economy would expand by $8 trillion, generating $2.2 trillion in tax revenues. This would give $70 billion in fresh wages to 1.2 million new workers nationwide. How stimulating!
Pioneers like Anadarko deliver abundant, low-cost, low-carbon energy cleanly and safely, while creating jobs and keeping revenues away from people who hate us. There is simply no logical reason to keep this treasure trapped beneath the waves.
– New York commentator Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.