US Gulf operations evacuate as Gustav grows

30 August 2008 22:34  [Source: ICIS news]

Three-day projected path of GustavHOUSTON (ICIS news)--Nearly 77% of US oil production and 37% of natural gas production was shut in on Saturday from the Gulf of Mexico as Gustav exploded into a category 4 storm with sustained winds of 150 miles/hour (240km/hour), authorities said.

The “extremely dangerous” hurricane could strengthen into a category 5 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale with sustained winds of 155 miles/hour or more as it crossed Cuba later in the day, US weather forecasters said.

The eye of the hurricane was 130 miles east (210km) of the western tip of Cuba as of 1600 Houston time (2100 GMT), the National Hurricane Center said.

“The centre of Gustav will pass over the western potions of Cuba today and tonight … then emerge over the southern Gulf of Mexico early on Sunday … and reach the northern Gulf by Monday morning,” the National Hurricane Center said.

“So much for a slowdown in the intensification rate of Gustav,” the National Hurricane Center said. “Yesterday at this time we conveyed that rapid intensification over the north-western Caribbean was possible … but this is a little more than what we had in mind in such a short time.”

Forecast tracks continued to show the hurricane slamming into the Louisiana coast on Tuesday morning, although forecasters cautioned its course could vary.

Offshore oil and gas operators in the Gulf of Mexico were evacuating platforms and rigs in the path of Gustav, the US Minerals Management Service (MMS) said.

Workers were evacuated from a total of 223 production platforms by Saturday morning, equivalent to 31.1% of the 717 manned platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, the MMS said.

“Personnel from 45 rigs have also been evacuated:  this is equivalent to 37.2 % of the 121 rigs currently operating in the Gulf,” the MMS said.

“From the operators’ reports, it is estimated that approximately 76.77 % of the oil production in the Gulf has been shut in,” the MMS said, amounting to 998,021 bbl/day.

About 37.16% of the natural gas production in the Gulf has been shut in, amounting to 2.75bn cubic feet/day, the MMS said.

ExxonMobil said it shut in 5,000 bbl/day of oil and 50m cubic feet/day of natural gas in advance of the hurricane.

“In anticipation of the storm, ExxonMobil chemical plants and refineries along the Gulf coast have also initiated preliminary safety procedures for weather related situations,” the company said. “At this time, normal operations continue. ExxonMobil has activated its emergency response teams as part of their preparations in advance of the storm's expected landfall.”

Valero said its Louisiana refinery St Charles and its Texas refineries in Port Arthur, Texas and Houston were running at reduced rates. The energy company said it expected to be closer on Saturday evening to decide whether to shut down its Gulf coast refineries in advance of Gustav.

Shell said its branded fuel stations throughout the US Gulf coast were experiencing a spike in demand as populations were preparing for evacuations.

New Orleans, Baton Rouge and surrounding areas (Lafayette, Lake Charles) are experiencing the greatest consumer demand with approximately 10% of Shell branded stations out of fuel as of 10 am [15:00 GMT],” Shell said.

Voluntary evacuations began from New Orleans, Louisiana, which was devastated three years ago by Hurricane Katrina.

Gustav has killed 70-80 people in the Caribbean.

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By: Brian Ford
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