Impending hurricane season could be double-edged sword for oil spill clean-up efforts

By Phaedra Friend Troy

With the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season revving for a start on June 1, the petroleum industry looks to weather experts for their take on how these extreme weather events could affect the oil spill clean-up efforts in the Gulf of Mexico.

For comprehensive coverage of the Deepwater Horizon incident, oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and efforts under way to resolve them, visit PennEnergy's Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico special section.

Firstly, similar to offshore production and drilling operations, oil spill clean-up efforts would halt in the path of any hurricane threats.

“If a hurricane was to threaten the Gulf of Mexico while clean-up operations are still ongoing, then the first impact would be to halt all clean-up operations 2-3 days before the hurricane would arrive,” said Chris Hebert, lead hurricane meteorologist with ImpactWeather. “The area would be evacuated, and all work would stop.”

Furthermore, a hurricane traveling through the Gulf of Mexico could be a double-edged sword, with the storm’s trajectory defining whether the high winds and waves would help or hinder the oil spill clean-up efforts.

“Depending upon which side of the spill the hurricane passed, there could be some transport of oil toward the coast,” Hebert revealed. “A hurricane passing west of the spill could have the potential to cause the oil to be driven toward the coast.”

On the other hand, should a hurricane enter the Gulf at a different angle, the results would be largely different.

“A hurricane passing well east of the spill might have the opposite effect,” Hebert added. “Northerly winds west of the center could help to keep oil offshore. But if the hurricane passes too close to the east of the spill, the winds would be strong enough to damage or destroy the containment booms.”

Furthermore, a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico may have some affect on oil under the water, as well.

“Hurricanes also have an impact well below the surface,” he concluded. “Large waves could disrupt sub-surface layers of oil down to several hundred feet -- but it’s hard to say whether or not that would be a bad thing.”

Look to PennEnergy and its daily Global Offshore Weather Report for up-to-date video coverage of offshore wind, waves and weather for the nine busiest offshore regions worldwide, including the Gulf of Mexico.

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