US Gulf oil producers shut in output as storm looms

By: Ben DuBose
Online Editor

Offshore oil and gas operators in the Gulf of Mexico have begun evacuating platforms and rigs due to an area of tropical disturbance (Invest 93 L), with nearly 6% of regional oil capacity already shut in.

The system is likely to strengthen into Tropical Storm Lee either late Thursday or early Friday, according to the US National Hurricane Center (NHC), packing winds of at least 40 miles/hour.

Computer models show the storm eventually making landfall somewhere between the upper Texas coast and the Florida panhandle, a region rich with oil and gas infrastructure. It is unclear how strong Lee’s winds will be.

However, offshore firms have already begun preparations.

BP and Anadarko both shut in production and evacuated Gulf platform workers, according to news reports. Each company operates eight platforms in the Gulf.

Meanwhile, Chevron and Apache were reported to be evacuating workers not essential to production.

The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE) Hurricane Response Team is the agency in charge of monitoring offshore operator activity.

Based on data from operator reports submitted as of 11:30 a.m. Central time on Thursday, personnel have been evacuated from nine production platforms, equivalent to 1.6% of the 617 manned platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

Production platforms are the structures located offshore from which oil and natural gas are produced. Unlike drilling rigs, which typically move from location to location, production facilities remain in the same location throughout a project’s duration.

None of the 62 rigs currently operating in the Gulf have been evacuated. Rigs can include several types of self-contained offshore drilling facilities including jackup rigs, submersibles and semisubmersibles.

As part of the evacuation process, personnel activate the applicable shut-in procedure, which can frequently be accomplished from a remote location. This involves closing the sub-surface safety valves located below the surface of the ocean floor to prevent the release of oil or gas.

During the recent hurricane seasons, the shut-in valves functioned 100% of the time, efficiently shutting in production from wells on the Outer Continental Shelf and protecting the marine and coastal environments. Shutting-in oil and gas production is a standard procedure conducted by industry for safety and environmental reasons.

From operator reports, it is estimated that approximately 5.7% of the current oil production in the Gulf of Mexico has been shut-in. It is also estimated that approximately 2.4% of Gulf natural gas production has been shut-in.

The production percentages are calculated using information submitted by offshore operators in daily reports.

Shut-in production information included in these reports is based on the amount of oil and gas the operator expected to produce that day.

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