It took patience, ingenuity and untold millions of dollars to heal the wounds Hurricane Katrina inflicted on Royal Dutch Shell's Mars platform, the most prolific oil-producing platform in the Gulf of Mexico.
But nearly a year and a half after the storm pummeled the 36,500-ton structure with 175-mph winds and 80-foot waves that left dead fish and crumpled steel on its decks, the platform has surpassed its pre-Katrina oil production levels.
The biggest step left to restore Mars to its pre-Katrina strength is the return of its drilling rig. Due in April, it will have a new 250-foot derrick atop a repaired 1,000-ton substructure that the storm ripped from its clamps and then slammed back onto the platform.
And how. Mars sustained some of the most eye-popping destruction wrought when hurricanes Katrina and Rita threw their one-two punch at the Gulf's energy network in 2005.
The storms destroyed 115 of the Gulf's 4,000 oil and gas platforms and damaged 52 others, the American Petroleum Institute said. It took months for companies to recover in the region that produces one-fourth of the nation's oil and one-fifth of its natural gas.
Shell spent $300 million fixing its Gulf infrastructure and covering relocation costs for workers who lost their homes and possessions to the storms. The company declined to specify how much of the cost was for Mars alone.
After three months of planning, two massive cranes mounted on a ship delicately lifted the decidedly not delicate rig substructure from
Mars' deck without damaging a critical gas processing unit. The latticework derrick was long gone and remains on the sea floor 300 feet from the platform.
Mars needed hundreds of welders, riggers
, divers and other workers to repair knotted steel and other damage wrought when the rig toppled. Mars can't house such a crowd, so Shell brought in a "floating hotel" from the North Sea to accommodate 500 people for months of major repair work.
But that structure had never been moored in more than 500 feet of water. Undaunted, Shell designed and installed mooring to anchor it to the seafloor 3,000 feet below next to the platform.
Lastly, Shell repaired two oil and natural gas pipelines 2,700 feet below the surface that transport oil and gas from Mars to shore. Anchors of adrift drilling rigs ripped free from their moors by the storm were dragged along the seafloor and plowed through the pipelines.
Robotic submarines used
A pair of remotely operated robotic submarines that Shell had kept on hand, but never used, replaced the damaged sections of pipe — a first for that kind of repair in such depths.
It has capacity to produce 220,000 barrels, and is partially owned by BP.
Shell's accomplishment with getting Mars back on line in just nine months with no injuries that required medical attention has made the company a contender for the Offshore Energy Achievement Award
for project of the year.
Source: Houston Chronicle