Record-Setting Offshore Rig Yields Safe, Clean Energy

Aboard Anadarko’s Independence Hub — When you last showered, 2% of the natural gas that heated your water likely emerged from this bright-yellow platform in the Gulf of Mexico. Painted like a lemon, to ward off errant ships and aircraft, this leading-edge installation proves that America can produce far more of our own energy — innovatively, safely, and cleanly — if we just stop scaring ourselves into paralysis.

The Independence Hub, or I-Hub, is a joint venture of Anadarko Petroleum and Enterprise Products Partners. I toured their $2 billion facility Tuesday on a trip sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute.

After a 65-minute helicopter ride from New Orleans, this rig is a surprisingly tranquil scene. Only a high-pitched hiss pierces a refreshingly cool breeze on a sunny morning. Huge pipes, valves, vents, and massive chains are abundant, yet orderly and nearly spotless.

Around the clock, an all-male, 18-member crew swaps 12-hour shifts. They spend two weeks on the rig, then two off. They bunk four to a room, each with lavatory and satellite TV.

I-Hub is Earth’s most productive natural-gas processing station. Its 1-billion-cubic-feet capacity equals 12 % of Gulf output. It delivers enough gas daily to satisfy 5 million American homes, or about 2 % of U.S. demand.

Sitting in 8,000 feet of water, a world record, I-Hub taps 16 wells in 10 discovery fields via 10- to 45-mile-long umbilical lines. Humans at sea level maintain this equipment via joysticks that control underwater robots.

Once gas is brought 1.5 miles to the surface, I-Hub propels it through an underwater pipeline to an onshore processing facility in Louisiana, 134 miles away.

I-Hub went online in July 2007. “It took just four years from discovery to production,” says Anadarko engineer Bob Buck. This torpedoes the argument that oil and gas development takes a decade or more, so why start now?

Anadarko constantly stresses safety. Hard hats and steel-toed boots are as ubiquitous as alcohol is unseen. Sensors identify potentially explosive natural-gas leaks. In an emergency, this entire enterprise could be shut down in 45 seconds, including remotely sealing gas wells beneath the ocean floor.

I-Hub’s “captain” is Barry Banes, a mustachioed, strong, silent type from Mississippi who has spent 30 years in offshore production. Throughout his career, “We went from very basic-type processes to very sophisticated computer-operated processes,” Banes observes. “It actually changes before your eyes. The technology that we have today, it’s probably improved the safety aspect of these facilities 10-fold over the last 20 years.”

Banes proudly notes that I-Hub undergoes annual inspections from the private American Bureau of Shipping, the federal Minerals Management Service, and the Coast Guard. “We never have had a single incident of non-compliance since we’ve been here.”

“We actually have a gas-producing plant out here,” Banes adds. “We are very conscientious about the environment.”

Unless you sail by on your yacht, I-Hub won’t ruin your ocean view or mar a romantic sunset. Thanks to Earth’s curvature, objects 12 miles from the beach vanish over the horizon. I-Hub is some 100 miles from the nearest shore, thus nullifying fears of visual pollution.

I-Hub filters sea water it absorbs during production, and then returns it to the Gulf. From barnacles upward, sea life seems pleased with its new neighbor.

“We sometimes see pods of sperm whales feeding on schools of fish that are naturally attracted to I-Hub’s substructure,” says Anadarko spokesman Matt Carmichael. “People fish for yellow fin tuna around our offshore facilities. Recreational fishermen and even commercial fishermen take advantage of these mini-ecosystems.”

I-Hub’s chief product is natural gas, something environmentalists once hailed for low emissions and light carbon dioxide. Now, perhaps because it technically is a hydrocarbon, the greens have gone cold on gas.

Pioneers like Anadarko deliver abundant, low-cost, low-carbon energy cleanly and safely, while creating jobs and keeping revenues from people who hate us. There is simply no logical reason to keep this treasure trapped beneath the waves.