By BEN LEFEBVRE and ANGEL GONZALEZ
About 1.3 million bpd of US refining capacity - nearly 8% of the country's total - is offline, the Department of Energy said Monday, as refiners remove employees in anticipation of Tropical Storm Isaac making landfall within the next few days.
Isaac was getting better organized late Monday, blowing winds of up to 70 miles an hour as it traveled northwest toward the Louisiana coast.
Currently about 295 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, Isaac is forecast to strengthen into a hurricane by early Tuesday morning and make landfall on the eastern Louisiana Coast by Wednesday.
The National Hurricane Center has issued a hurricane warning for communities along the coastline of the eastern half of Louisiana, and for the coastal areas of Mississippi and Alabama and parts of western Florida.
The storm, which has already forced BP and other energy producers to shut-in 78% of Gulf oil production and nearly half of natural gas production, could similarly affect US refining operations, about 19% of which are in Louisiana and Mississippi.
Marathon Petroleum said it would shutter its 464,000 bpd Garyville refinery in Louisiana until after the storm had safely passed. The company later said it hoped to continue running at reduced rates.
Meanwhile, Phillips 66 said it was in the process of suspending operations at its 247,000 bpd Alliance refinery in Belle Chasse, La. The company said the refinery would be completely shut down by Monday night.
Phillips 66s Lake Charles refinery in Westlake, La. was still running but was keeping a close eye on the storm's progress, the company said. That refinery has the capacity to process 239,000 bpd of oil.
Elsewhere, Shell and Motiva reduced the operating rates at their refineries in Louisiana and Alabama. Motiva's refineries in Norco and Convent, La., and Shell's refineries near Geismar, La., and Mobile, Ala., have a combined capacity of about 600,000 bpd.
Shell did not say at what rates the refineries were operating at. Motiva is a joint venture between Shell and Saudi Arabian Oil Co.
ExxonMobil on Monday said it was in the process of shutting down refining operations at Chalmette Refining, a joint venture the company owns in Louisiana along with Petroleos de Venezuela SA.
Exxon also said it was operating its Baton Rouge, La., refining facilities at reduced rates.
On Sunday, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindall said Chevron had started shutting its 330,000 bpd refinery in Pascagoula, Miss., but a Chevron spokesman said the plant was operating normally.
Compilation of Dow Jones Newswires reports