Gulf of Mexico Storm Threat Sparks Rig Evacuations

06 22, 2012 by Bloomberg

Gulf of Mexico energy platforms began evacuations as a weather system off the Yucatan Peninsula threatened to grow into a tropical storm over the weekend.

There’s a 70 percent chance the cluster of thunderstorms will organize into a tropical depression or Tropical Storm Debby in the next two days, the National Hurricane Center said. Computer forecast models disagree on the system’s track.

“We’re urging anyone along the U.S. Gulf Coast to pay attention to this over the weekend,” Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the center in Miami, said by telephone.

The Gulf of Mexico is home to 6.5 percent of U.S. natural gas production, 29 percent of oil output and 40 percent of refining capacity. Offshore oil and natural gas platforms need to carry out evacuations well in advance of a storm’s arrival, so any system in the Gulf can cause production disruptions.

Murphy Oil Corp. began evacuating non-essential workers off its rigs in the Gulf today, while ERA Helicopters LLC of St. Charles, Louisiana, reported it is ferrying personnel from off- shore platforms. Melanie Landry, a spokeswoman for ERA, said she wouldn’t disclose which companies had called for evacuations.

“Given that the U.S. Gulf now has become a significant exporter of products, it is a bit more difficult to estimate the net impact of U.S. Gulf tropical storms, as delays in export shipments due to bad weather can also translate into product stock builds,” Olivier Jakob, managing director of Switzerland- based Petromatrix, said in san e-mailed report.
Models Unhelpful

Feltgen said computer models can’t give a clear indication of where the system may go because there isn’t a storm yet.

“They’re all over the place,” he said. “The models are going to look like a squashed spider, so I wouldn’t put any stock in it.”

A U.S. Air Force Reserve reconnaissance flight scheduled to investigate the area today was canceled and rescheduled for tomorrow, Feltgen said.

The system has potential, however.

“That is definitely a system that has to be paid attention to,” said Tom Kines, an expert senior meteorologist at AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania. “I think the odds are pretty high that it will be a named storm before the weekend is over.”

A storm gets a name when its winds reach 39 miles (63 kilometers) per hour. Kines said warm water and low wind shear in the Gulf will allow the system to organize and strengthen.
Hurricane Odds

The chance of the storm growing into a hurricane before going ashore sometime next week are slim at the moment, said Jim Rouiller, senior energy meteorologist at Planalytics Inc. in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. While the waters of the Gulf are warm enough to spark a system, “the heat content doesn’t favor rapid intensification,” he said.

Where the storm will go depends on other weather patterns across the U.S., Rouiller said. In one scenario, a pair of high pressure systems could steer it into the Florida panhandle. Another would take it across the western Gulf of Mexico and into Texas, he said.

Wherever the storm goes, it will probably go ashore sometime in the middle of next week, Kines said.

Rouiller said this is the first real threat of the year in the Gulf of Mexico and with the relatively mild start to summer, “this will get the traders looking and saying, ‘Hey, we got something ominous for the Gulf.’”

If Debby forms, it would be the fourth storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. It will also be the first time since record-keeping began in 1851 that four storms have formed in the Atlantic before July 1, Feltgen said.

“This is the seventh Atlantic season in recorded history where three storms have formed before July 1,” Feltgen said. “We have never gone with four storms before July 1.”