Extreme IT: Hurricanes, high winds and heavy seas

Wireless networking in the face of wind, lightning strikes and other Gulf weather events

The massive Hurricane Ike filled much of the Gulf of Mexico on Sept. 12, with large areas of intense rainfall, as shown in this image from NASA's Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite. The approximate location of Chevron's Genesis platform has been added to the image.

The massive Hurricane Ike filled much of the Gulf of Mexico on Sept. 12, with large areas of intense rainfall, as shown in this image from NASA's Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite. The approximate location of Chevron's Genesis platform has been added to the image.

When Lance Gibson talks about a storm knocking out his systems, he doesn't mean the infamous worm. He might be referring to the latest hurricane to sweep through the Gulf of Mexico or to the lightning accompanying a vicious thunderstorm.

Gibson is the offshore infrastructure communications supervisor for Chevron's oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico, overseeing the IT needs of the company's offshore production facilities as well as its onshore support centers.

"Basically, I'm responsible for the entire infrastructure delivery," he says, "from the servers onshore all the way to the microwave, wireless and satellite communications we use for our voice and data communications offshore." We spoke with Gibson in mid-August; joining the conversation was Chevron public affairs representative Qiana Wilson.

A couple of weeks after our conversation, Hurricane Gustav provided a dramatic reminder of the kinds of situations Gibson has to deal with. Chevron and other companies with facilities in the Gulf evacuated their workers and shut down their oil platforms in advance of the threatening storm.

Once Gustav passed, Chevron began assessing its facilities and planning on remobilization of personnel, but Hurricane Ike put an end to that and forced another evacuation. At the time of this writing, Chevron reports that although several of its platforms were toppled by the storms, the company has once again started remobilizing its personnel.

Where are the offshore oil facilities that you support?

Gibson: We support the entire Gulf of Mexico region, from offshore Texas to offshore Alabama, whether our operations are on the OCS [Outer Continental Shelf] or in the deepwater areas of the Gulf of Mexico. That includes all of our offshore production platforms and drilling rigs, as well as our onshore operations that pertain to our Gulf of Mexico business units.

How many installations are there?

Wilson: We don't like to say how many offshore installations we actually have. But I can tell you that Chevron is the largest leaseholder in the Gulf of Mexico shelf.

How far offshore is the farthest one?

Wilson: Right now, the farthest offshore is [the platform named] Genesis, which is about 150 miles from New Orleans. When Tahiti and Blind Faith come online, they'll be still further out and in deeper water.

How deep?

Gibson: The water depth can range from 10 feet near the shore all the way to 3,000 or 4,000 feet in the deeper waters. We're constantly moving out deeper.

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