Energy Companies Race to Complete Gulf of Mexico Evacuations

By Sabrina Valle and Erwin Seba | August 27, 2021
HOUSTON — U.S. oil and gas companies on Friday raced to complete evacuations from offshore Gulf of Mexico platforms as Tropical Storm Ida advanced toward oilfields that provide 17% of the nation’s oil production.

The storm’s winds intensified early Friday as it moved through the Caribbean Sea at 15 miles per hour (24 kph) and Ida could become a hurricane as it nears western Cuba, according to the National Hurricane Center. It forecast Ida will become a major hurricane, packing winds of at least 111 mph (178 kph), by early Sunday.

Top Gulf of Mexico oil producer Royal Dutch Shell Plc said it suspended production at seven offshore platforms and BP Plc stopped work at four platforms. Both are continuing to evacuate workers, the companies said.

BHP, Chevron, and Equinor also pulled workers from offshore facilities, spokespeople said.

Gasoline producer Phillips 66 is preparing slow throughput and may idle a processing plant at the tip of Louisiana’s coast, said people familiar with the matter. A spokesperson declined to comment.

Oil prices rose nearly 2% Friday and are on track to post big gains for the week on worries over supply disruptions. U.S. Gulf Coast gasoline prices also climbed this week because of concerns about the storm, traders said.

Over 45% of U.S. refining capacity lies along the Gulf Coast.

Louisiana’s governor called on residents to prepare for a major storm, and two coastal communities on Friday asked residents to move to higher ground. Five storms made landfall in Louisiana last year, causing billions of dollars in damage.

Ida is “expected to be a dangerous major hurricane when it reaches the northern Gulf Coast on Sunday,” the NHC said. “Potentially devastating wind damage could occur where the core of Ida moves onshore.”

A path over the Gulf’s ultra warm waters will intensify the storm and lead to flooding rainfall well inland.

“Water temperatures are 85 degrees to 88 degrees Fahrenheit (29-31 degree Celsius), that’s anomalously high, 3 to 5 degrees higher than it normally would be,” said Jim Foerster, chief meteorologist for DTN, which provides weather advice to oil and transportation companies.

Parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama could expect 8 to 16 inches (20-40 cm) of rain by Monday, with up to 20 inches in isolated areas. The storm could bring a life-threatening tidal surge and damaging winds, in addition to heavy rainfall to coastal areas by Sunday and Monday, the NHC said.

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