Harbor police escort a Coast Survey caravan down closed Highway 1, on the way to Port Fourchon on Aug. 30.
Reports were already surfacing about hikes in gas prices because oil rigs were shut down in anticipation of a direct hit from Hurricane Isaac, when NOAA's Office of Coast Survey got the call. Their help was needed to speed the resumption of port operations at Port Fourchon, La., known as the "Gulf's Energy Connection."
Coast Survey deployed the closest navigation response team, which they had earlier mobilized from normal hydrographic survey operations in Texas, in order to search for dangers to navigation in the evacuated Louisiana port.
The navigation response team arrived at Port Fourchon on Aug. 30, after receiving a police escort down the storm-ravaged (and closed) Highway 1. The team launched their 28-foot Sea Ark, equipped with side scan sonar used to "see" debris in the waterways and a multibeam echo sounder that uses high-resolution depth information to detect shoaling. After the first day of surveying, technicians worked until the early morning hours, processing the depth measurements and images for port officials who needed to quickly re-establish the supply of domestic energy from the Gulf.
Port Fourchon started allowing ships to enter the port within 30 hours of Coast Survey's arrival, after the navigation response team found only minor shoaling and no underwater debris that would pose a danger to navigation.
Days before Hurricane Isaac hit the U.S., Coast Survey mobilized assets and personnel, getting ready to respond to navigational needs of ports impacted by the slow-moving, and drenching, hurricane. Navigation response teams, who normally survey ports and coastal areas to acquire modern data for updating nautical charts, were moved to Louisiana and Florida's panhandle, so they could hit the water as soon as sea conditions allowed.
Port Fourchon services about 90 percent of all deep-water oil rigs and platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. It is also the host for the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, which is the only port in the United States capable of handling Ultra Large Crude Carriers and Very Large Crude Carriers. The Morgan City Captain of the Port, who has jurisdiction over Port Fourchon, anticipated they would need NOAA's rapid maritime response as soon as conditions allowed boats in the water.