23 Aug PLH Group: Restoring America’s Energy Hub
At the southernmost tip of Louisiana, where the land ends and the gulf begins, tiny Port Fourchon, population 3,318 (source: city-data.com) has undergone a huge transformation in the last 35 years.
Once a ramshackle fishing village with crushed clamshells for roads, it’s now our nation’s epicenter of energy, home to more than 250 businesses that support the oil and gas industry. (source: portfourchon.com)
Location, Location, Location
Port Fourchon’s renaissance occurred back in the early 1980’s when the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) opened 18 miles off its coast. The LOOP is responsible for 90% of the Gulf of Mexico’s oil production, funneling more than 18% of our nation’s total energy supply through Port Fourchon to refineries all across America – even as far north as Minnesota.
But Port Fourchon’s proximity to the gulf’s assets has proven to be both its lifeblood and its nemesis.
National Assets in a Vulnerable Place
Situated in bayou country, there is no solid bedrock in Port Fourchon, making it a challenge to keep foundations secure.
To make matters worse, because of the massive levee system built in the 1930’s to keep towns from flooding, the natural overflow of sediment deposits from the Mississippi have not been able to build up the land in this area.
Instead, the salty waters of the gulf have slowly crept inland eroding the area’s infrastructure of bridges, electric power lines, and roads. The most critical road being a 17-mile stretch of Louisiana Highway (LA-1), which is the only way in, and out of Port Fourchon.
If sinking land and crumbling roads weren’t bad enough, the third strike against Port Fourchon is: it sits smack in the middle of Hurricane Alley.
The culmination of this triple threat came to a head in September 2005 when two back-to-back category 5 hurricanes – Katrina and Rita – redefined the damage of what of a typical 100-year storm could do.
These two storms downed power lines, destroyed roads, sunk oil platforms and temporarily shut down Port Fourchon, racking up over $90 billion in storm restoration damage.
The truth is, Port Fourchon needed more than money to recover after these disasters struck. They needed a team of professionals.
Enter Auger Services, LLC and its sister company Air2, both subsidiaries of PLH Group, who were summoned to the front lines by Entergy, the utility giant who keeps the power on in Port Fourchon.
Auger and Air2 crews worked in tandem on land, sea and air, first assessing the initial damage through patrols and inspections, and then began clearing out debris with KMAX medium-lift helicopters.
Two weeks after Katrina hit, the power was restored to Port Fourchon.
Then, destruction hit twice again in 2008 with hurricanes Gustav and Ike, both category 4’s. Bryan Beck, Vice President of Auger Services located in Gonzales, Louisiana commented after Hurricane Ike, “the place was a mess!”
Air2’s emergency response team coordinated with Auger Services to ferry men to the utility poles, pull up electric power lines, and oversee wrecking out of the damaged lines. The project was challenging to say the least.
Then in August 2012, disaster struck again when LA Highway 1 south of Port Fourchon, was partially washed out during Hurricane Isaac.
Strengthening the Energy Coast
Based on lessons learned from the aftermath of these disasters, utility giant Entergy has invested millions in a long-term strategy to fortify the area’s energy infrastructure.
Auger Services and Air2 have been an integral part in Entergy’s plan to restore the Port Fourchon area. This included relocating 60-year-old power lines out of the marshy areas to alongside highway LA-1 by constructing 21 ton foundations to support the 20 mile 115 kV transmission line running from Golden Meadows to Leeville. These new and improved electric power lines exceed the National Electrical Safety Code criteria for a Category 5 hurricane, as some of the new poles are 150 feet high and can withstand 150-mile per hour winds.
When asked what it takes to relocate 20 miles of 115kV power lines Mr. Beck says, “the right equipment, and a few good engineers with a heck of a lot of engineering knowledge.”
Aside from the work Entergy has already accomplished in cooperation with Auger Services and Air2, there are several on-going projects in the works to further harden power sources, such as rerouting additional transmission lines out of marshy areas and upgrading area substations.
“Entergy engineers worked with Auger Services to gather information on three similar projects. As a team we worked through equipment needs and capabilities, as well as, material requirements to minimize impact on vendor production schedules. The next obstacle was design load capability, most of these structures were designed as large as the construction equipment can manage. A lot of time and effort was put into the design, execution and completion to insure the hardening of the electrical assets to withstand any future hurricanes. The project was completed incident free and ahead of schedule due to constant communication throughout the project,” said Bryan Beck.
The dynamic combination of Auger Services, Inc. and Air2, LLC have proven time and again they have the resources and expertise it takes to keep our Gulf’s energy supply flowing.