11 September 2008 20:49 [Source: ICIS news]
HOUSTON (ICIS news)--Companies have shut-in nearly all of the crude oil and natural gas production in the Gulf as Hurricane Ike continued its path towards Houston, government agencies said on Thursday.
Government officials have called for evacuations and school closings. Companies continue to shut down onshore plants and refineries.
As of 11:30 hours Houston time (16:30 GMT), 96.9% of the Gulf's 1.3m bb/day of oil production had been shut-in, according to the Minerals Management Service (MMS). In addition, 93.3% of its 7.4bn cbf/day natural gas production had been shut-in.
As of 13:00 hours Houston time, Ike was 470 miles east-southeast of Galveston, Texas, according to the National Hurricane Center. Ike was projected to make landfall by early Friday between Matagorda Bay and Galveston.
Ike had winds of 100 miles/hour, making it a category 2 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, the centre said. Before making landfall, Ike could strengthen into a major hurricane, with winds of at least 111 miles/hour.
Ike is enormous, with tropical-storm-force winds extending up to 275 miles from its centre, meteorologists said. Hurricane-strength winds are extending out by up to 115 miles.
In preparation for Ike, Shell has started shutting down its refining and chemical operations at its Deer Park complex in Texas, the company said. Shell plans to maintain utilities so it could quickly restart the plant when the weather improves.
Motiva's refinery in Port Arthur, Texas is running at reduced rates, Shell said.
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The US Coast Guard said all vessel traffic services for the Houston and Galveston ports would be suspended at 05:00 Houston time (10:00 GMT) on Friday.BASF has started to shut down its Freeport facilities in Texas, a company spokesperson said.
The shutdown process was expected to last 24-36 hours, BASF said.
Government agencies have started their own preparations for the hurricane.
A state of disaster has been declared for Harris County, which includes Houston. Such a declaration will allow the county to control evacuations, rescues and other emergency operations.
Harris County also ordered mandatory evacuations for parts of the county most susceptible to storm surges. The hurricane could pack a tidal storm surge of up to 20 feet above normal, according the the hurricane centre.
The evacuations took effect at 12:00 hours Houston time.
Houston Mayor Bill White asked for all schools to be closed on Friday. He also asked all companies to allow nonessential employees to take the day off on Friday.
Those who should still work on Friday are employed by industries in healthcare, fuel, pharmacies, transportation and groceries.
(Additional reporting by Landon Feller, Ben LeFebvre and Lane Kelley)
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