Salvage operation goes down a storm

A BP oil platform swept on its side by hurricane has been righted in the Gulf of Mexico.

A massive engineering operation has righted BP’s Thunder Horse oil platform, which was left listing after Hurricane Dennis swept the Gulf of Mexico.

The rig, which has a crew of more than 200, was safely evacuated before the storm hit but was listing at up to 30 degrees when vessels returned to the area on 11 July.

Thunder Horse is in the Mississippi Canyon area, 150 miles south-east of New Orleans. It is the largest platform of its type, weighing more than 50,000 tons, and is operated by BP with ExxonMobil.

The rig was expected to have a peak output of 250,000 barrels a day when production began later this year, extracting oil from some of the region’s deepest wells.

The US Coast Guard and BP are working to find the cause of the problem, but the listing is thought to have resulted from excess water entering Thunder Horse’s ballast tanks.

Despite the dramatic tilting, BP said there is little or no structural damage. Pumping of the platform began on 13 July and there have so far been no spills of either oil or any other hazardous materials.

The salvage operation has been a joint effort by BP, maritime recovery specialist SMIT, the Coast Guard and the US Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service.

The oil-spill response vessel Gulf Coast Responder is on location to deal with any potential environmental issues, while the Coast Guard’s Cutter Pelican, an 87ft patrol boat from Louisiana, has been enforcing a safety zone and will provide search and rescue response in the event of an emergency.

The weather at the scene of the recovery effort has been calm throughout the operation, but BP was keen to work fast to make the rig storm safe as Hurricane Emily moved into the west of the Gulf.