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Picayune lands $2.5-million Chevron helicopter facility

PICAYUNE — When it comes to offshore oil development in the Gulf of Mexico, for most people it is a case of “out of sight, out of mind.”

Few people on shore realize the impact of the oil industry in the Gulf of Mexico, which produces 97% of all offshore oil and gas produced in the U.S.

“You’re not hit with it in the face every day, so the offshore oil and gas industry isn’t as prominent in Mississippi,” said Barney Congdon, public affairs officer for the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic district of the U.S. Minerals Management Service. “But it is a tremendous business. There is a lot of deep water activity farther out about 60 miles south of the Mississippi state line in an area known as the Mississippi Canyon.”

There are 4,011 producing platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. Oil production is about 1,381,811 barrels per day, and natural gas production is 13.209 billion cubic feet of gas per day. Waters south of Alabama and Louisiana have even more dense production than waters south of Mississippi.

About 50,000 people are directly employed in oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico. There are 33,000 miles of pipelines in the Gulf that move the energy produced to processing plants on land.

“It is a big industry, and the whole story is not just what is actually being produced,” Congdon said. “The infrastructure in Mississippi is tremendous as far as shipbuilding that supports the oil and gas industry, as well as the building of rigs.”

Mississippi also has the Chevron Pascagoula Refinery, one of the top 10 largest oil refineries in the country, and the Amoco Gas Processing plant, also in Pascagoula.

And now the western portion of Mississippi has also gotten a big onshore boost from offshore oil and gas production. Chevron USA Production Co. recently signed a seven-year lease on a $2.5-million aviation maintenance facility to be built at the new Picayune Municipal Airport. About 73 employees are expected to be located there, and the area will also get a boost from the number of employees driving to and from the airport to catch helicopter flights to their jobs on rigs in the Gulf.

Chevron, along with Shell and British Petroleum, are the largest oil companies that operate in the Gulf of Mexico. The Chevron aviation maintenance facility, which will be home to the company’s 29 helicopters and one seaplane used for oil and gas exploration and development, is being moved from New Orleans Lakefront Airport to higher ground in Picayune to prevent flooding damage.

Steve Sabree, Chevron aviation operations manager, said the move inland is intended to eliminate the likelihood that maintenance equipment, spare parts and aircraft could be damaged by flooding, such as occurred during Hurricane Georges in 1998. Sabree said the new facility in Picayune will provide them with confidence and peace of mind that they will be able to provide reliable support to offshore aircraft operations.

“That’s especially important during those critical times when we’re evacuating offshore employees from the potential threat of a hurricane or tropical storm and during redeployment following a storm,” Sabree said.

The helicopters are used to transport crew members to the offshore platforms. In 2000 Chevron’s aircraft logged 27,360 flight hours and transported 357,383 passengers in the Gulf of Mexico.

Chevron signed a seven-year lease with Magnolia Air I for use of apron space and a new 37,847-square-foot maintenance and office building. A groundbreaking ceremony for the new facility that will be built by Magnolia Air I was held in late June. The facility is expected to be ready for occupancy in March 2002.

Federal, state and local economic development officials have been working to attract the Chevron facility to Picayune, which opened its new municipal airport about two years ago. The U.S. Economic Development Association provided a $1.6 million grant in April to provide infrastructure improvements for roads, lighting, sewer and electrical systems.

Picayune Mayor Woody Spiers said he hopes attracting Chevron will be just the first economic development at the airport. He said there has been interest from other companies in aircraft and other technology-related fields in the wake of Chevron’s announcement.

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.


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