- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 25, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

ANADARKO INDEPENDENCE HUB, Gulf of Mexico.

When you last showered, 2 percent 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 its 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 presents 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 it’s orderly and nearly spotless.

Around the clock, an all-male 18-member crew swaps 12-hour shifts. The men 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-foot capacity equals 12 percent of Gulf output. It delivers enough gas daily to satisfy 5 million American homes, or about 2 percent 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. “We went from very basic-type processes to very sophisticated computer-operated processes,” Mr. Banes said while looking back on his career. “It actually changes before your eyes. The technology that we have today, it’s probably improved the safety aspect of these facilities tenfold over the last 20 years.”

Mr. 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 noncompliance since we’ve been here,” he said.

“We actually have a gas-producing plant out here,” Mr. Banes added. “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 about 100 miles from the nearest shore, thus nullifying fears of visual pollution. I-Hub filters seawater 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 yellowfin tuna around our offshore facilities. Recreational fishermen and even commercial fishermen take advantage of these miniecosystems.”

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.

Deroy Murdock is a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.

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