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How oil companies plan for hurricane season in the Gulf

As hurricane season once again bears down on the Gulf Coast, those who work on offshore oil rigs are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.

Technological advances allow meteorologists to more accurately predict the timing and path of storms than they could decades ago. This allows energy companies and others with oil platforms and other offshore facilities in the Gulf to more accurately determine at what point they need to evacuate their workers.

Royal Dutch Shell, which runs the majority of oil platforms in the Gulf, has about 80 employees who focus on storm planning. Emergency preparedness professionals and oil industry officials assert that there's been an increasing emphasis on the safety of workers over the desire to stay in the storm's path for as long as possible, continuing to get oil.

Shell says that while a hurricane or other storm is still days out from its facilities in the Gulf, its experts determine who should be evacuated and when or whether a platform or rig should be moved. They determine which personnel are considered nonessential. These are people who can be evacuated from a facility without seriously impacting its operations.

Depending on the size of the platform, anywhere from about two dozen to 200 people may be working on it. Evacuation can be a large-scale operation. The closer the storm gets, the more dangerous it becomes. The company partners with helicopter companies to get employees off its platforms. It also sets up onshore shelters for evacuated employees.

Shutting down wells before the storm hits is a complicated process. Depending on the severity of the storm, workers will either do a "soft" shut, which allows production to continue, or a "hard" shut, which stops the flow of oil. After a hard shut, they may have to drill again to get oil.

Another option may be moving the platform. Improvements in technology and processes have made that a more viable option than it used to be.

Oil workers in the Gulf of Mexico have a dangerous job under the best circumstances. When the Atlantic hurricane season hits, the dangers for those who remain on the platforms is significantly greater. Oil companies and contractors are responsible for doing their best to ensure the safety of their workers. If you or a loved one was injured or worse on an oil platform, find out what your legal options are.

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