The U.S. Coast Guard will
establish safety zones around seven of Shell Oil
's Gulf of Mexico high-production oil and natural gas platforms
, at the company's request, to protect them from being hit by vessels operating outside normal shipping channels. "Placing safety zones around the platforms will significantly reduce the threat of...oil spills and releases of natural gas," the Coast Guard said in a notice published in Thursday's Federal Register.
The new regulations, which take effect on May 1, prevent most vessels from coming within 500 m of the platforms.
Only attending vessels, ships under 100 ft. authorized by the Coast Guard that aren't engaged in towing and vessels would be allowed near the platforms. Shell, the U.S. unit of Royal Dutch/Shell Group, requested that the safety zones be established around its following Gulf platforms: the Boxer Platform, Bulwinkle Platform, Ursa Tension Leg Platform, West Delta Platform, Mars Tension Leg Platform, Ram-Powell Tension Leg Platform and the Auger Tension Leg Platform. Each of the seven platforms produce from 100,000 to 250,000 barrels of oil a day, and are manned with crews ranging from 130 to 156 people.
Shell told the Coast Guard that a ship collision with any of the platforms would result in "a catastrophic event." Some of the platforms, which are in waters more than 1,000 ft. deep, are located near the edge of shipping channels or in open waters where no fixed structures previously existed.