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Operators evacuate US Gulf personnel

Oil and gas companies in pull workers, curtail production ahead of tropical weather threat

Operators are evacuating and shutting in production from a wide swathe of offshore facilities in US Gulf of Mexico ahead of a weather system expected to strengthen to a tropical storm by Thursday night and a hurricane by Friday.

The US Bureau of Safety & Environmental Enforcement estimated that about 31.89% of oil production in the region, some 602,715 barrels per day, had been shut in as of midday on Wednesday. Likewise some 17.85% of natural gas production, or 496.2 million cubic feet per day, has been curtailed.

Operators have evacuated a total of 15 platforms -- though some of the largest in the region -- as well as four rigs. A total of three dynamically positioned rigs have been moved offsite due to the weather.

Chevron confirmed to Upstream that it had begun removing all personnel and started shut-in procedures on five platforms in the region, namely the Big Foot, Blind Faith, Genesis, Petronius and Tahiti facilities.

It has also started removing some non-essential personnel from its Jack St Malo platform, though production there remains level for now.

Shell said on Tuesday it has secured rig operations and evacuated non-essential workers from its Appomattox, Mars, Olympus and Ursa facilities in the eastern US Gulf of Mexico.

The Anglo-Dutch supermajor said it had taken modest production curtailments of 700 and 1835 barrels per day at Mars and Olympus respectively and would continue to watch the situation as needed.

BP also said it had "begun removing offshore personnel and shutting-in production at BP-operated facilities across the Gulf." The UK supermajor operates the Thunder Horse, Atlantis, Mad Dog and Na Kika facilities.

Anadarko said it was pulling all staff and shutting in production at its central Gulf facilities including the Constitution, Heidelberg, Holstein, and Marco Polo platforms. It was also removing non-essential personnel from eastern Gulf facilities.

BHP told Upstream it was evacuating workers and ramping down production at its operated Shenzi and Neptune production hubs.

Forecasters with the US National Hurricane Centre said Wednesday morning that they expect the system to strengthen to a tropical cyclone by Thursday morning as it moves westward across the Gulf over the coming days.

The NHC has issued a tropical storm watch from the mouth of the Mississippi River to Morgan City, Louisiana, while a storm surge watch was issued from the mouth of the Pearl River to Morgan City.

The system is currently sitting off the Florida Panhandle with maximum sustained winds of about 30 miles per hour.

"Strengthening is forecast during the next 72 hours, and the disturbance is forecast to become a tropical depression Thursday morning, a tropical storm Thursday night, and a hurricane on Friday," the NHC said.

The system could cause storm surge of between three and five feet and total rain accumulations of between 6 and 12 inches on the central Gulf coast, with up to 18 inches in isolated areas.

A path of the storm's trajectory shows it coming ashore close to the Louisiana-Texas border sometime on Saturday.

The US Gulf Coast hurricane season began on 1 June, though this system is the first to prompt major mobilisation at offshore assets.

This is a developing story, check back for updates.

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