Photo: A satellite image of storm Zeta in the Gulf of Mexico. Source: NOAA

Oil and gas operators brace for impact as storm Zeta gains strength in Gulf of Mexico

Oil and gas operators are shutting down production and evacuating their offshore personnel from facilities in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico as the 27th named storm of this year’s Atlantic Hurricane Season Zeta, nears hurricane strength.

BP's Atlantis platform in the Gulf of Mexico
BP’s Atlantis in the Gulf of Mexico – one of the platforms evacuated ahead of the storm. Photo source: BP

As reported on Monday, BP started securing its facilities and evacuating its personnel from four offshore platforms on Sunday.

In an update on Monday, 26 October BP said it was closely monitoring Tropical Storm Zeta to ensure the safety of its personnel and operations in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico.

With forecasts indicating the storm will move across Central Gulf of Mexico in the next few days, BP has begun evacuating personnel from its platforms and assets and is beginning to shut-in production.

The four mobile offshore drilling units contracted to BP are in the process of securing their wells to safely evade the storms.

In addition, BP is securing and preparing to close its Houma Operations Learning Center in Louisiana.

In updates released on 26 October, Shell said that, as a precautionary measure, it would be limiting the movement of nonessential personnel to offshore assets.

“We have safely paused some of our drilling operations and there are currently no impacts to our production. We will continue to monitor weather reports and respond accordingly”, the oil major said.

Shell also stated that its manufacturing facilities along the Louisiana and Alabama coasts were closely monitoring Tropical Storm Zeta and were prepared to take action as appropriate based on its established hurricane readiness and response plans.

These manufacturing facilities are located in Convent, Geismar and Norco, Louisiana and Mobile, Alabama.

Another operator, Chevron, said it was monitoring Zeta and, in preparation for the tropical weather, it started evacuating all personnel from its operated Gulf of Mexico platforms and were shutting-in the facilities.

NHC: Zeta to be at near hurricane strength on Wednesday

According to the U.S. National Hurricane Centre’s update on Tuesday, Hurricane Zeta should turn toward the north tonight, and a faster northward to north-northeastward motion is expected on Wednesday.

On the forecast track, the centre of Zeta will move over the northern Yucatan Peninsula this morning, move over the southern Gulf of Mexico later today, and approach the northern Gulf Coast in the watch area on Wednesday.

The NHC said that Zeta is forecast to re-strengthen when it moves over the southern Gulf of Mexico later today and be at or near hurricane strength when it approaches the northern Gulf Coast on Wednesday.

BSEE: 10 platforms evacuated

In an update on Monday, the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) said that, based on data from offshore operator reports, personnel have been evacuated from a total of 10 production platforms, 1.56 per cent of the 643 manned platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

Currently, no personnel have been evacuated from rigs (non-dynamically positioned), operating in the Gulf.

A total of 6 dynamically positioned rigs have moved off location out of the hurricane’s projected path as a precaution. This number represents 37.5 per cent of the 16 dynamically positioned rigs currently operating in the Gulf.

BSEE estimates that approximately 15.87 per cent of the current oil production in the Gulf of Mexico has been shut-in.

Furthermore, BSEE estimates that approximately 6 per cent of the natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico has been shut-in.