Tropical Storm Debby Strengthens on Course Through Oil Fields

Anadarko Petroleum Corp., BP Plc and other companies stopped production in the Gulf of Mexico as Tropical Storm Debby strengthened, as forecasters projected a track that cuts through offshore oil- and gas-production areas before reaching the Texas coastline by week's end.

Debby’s top winds grew to 60 miles (97 kilometers) per hour from 50 mph earlier as the storm drifted north about 170 miles southeast of the Mississippi River’s mouth, according to a National Hurricane Center advisory just before 8 a.m. New York time.

The current track, which is subject to change, would take the storm parallel to the U.S. Gulf Coast through this week, including near where Transocean Ltd.’s Deepwater Horizon rig burned and sank in April 2010 on assignment at BP Plc’s Macondo well. 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.

The U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said 7.8 percent of oil production and 8.2 percent of natural gas output in the Gulf has been halted. Anadarko shut four platforms, and BP started closing some oil and natural-gas wells. Apache Corp. and two other companies began evacuating non-essential workers from some Gulf facilities.

Stormy Conditions

“Tropical storm conditions are already near or over portions of the northeast Gulf Coast and are expected to reach the remainder of the warning area by tonight, making outside preparations difficult or dangerous,” according to the advisory.

Tropical storm warnings, meaning winds of at least 39 mph will arrive in 36 hours, have been posted from Morgan City, Louisiana, to the Pearl River. New Orleans isn’t included in this warning. In addition, a warning has been posted for the entire Alabama coast eastward to the Ochlockonee River in Florida, according to the Hurricane Center.

Sustained winds of 37 mph, just shy of the 39 mph threshold for a tropical storm, have been reported in Bald Point, Florida. Tropical storm-strength winds extend 200 miles from Debby’s center.

BP, Apache, Chevron

BP, Apache and Chevron Corp. said on their websites that they began evacuating non-essential personnel from some Gulf facilities yesterday. ConocoPhillips said it’s taking non-essential employees off its Magnolia platform.

BP Plc began shutting some oil and natural-gas wells in the Gulf of Mexico as the company evacuated workers and contractors from offshore platforms and drilling rigs in the expected path of Debby, Brett Clanton, a Houston-based spokesman for BP, said in an e-mail.

Anadarko halted production at its Neptune, Independence Hub, Constitution and Marco Polo facilities in the eastern and central Gulf of Mexico, the company said on its website. All employees will be evacuated from the platforms, the company said.

BHP Billiton Ltd. on June 22 shut the Neptune and Shenzi platforms, which can together produce 150,000 barrels of oil a day and 100 million cubic feet of gas. Murphy Oil Corp. began evacuating non-essential workers on the same day, as did Anadarko, Marathon Oil Corp., Nexen Inc., Enterprise Products Partners LP and Hess Corp.

Gulf Rigs

Royal Dutch Shell Plc may remove some non-essential workers from central and western Gulf rigs in the next few days, the company said on its website.

In addition, ERA Helicopters LLC of St. Charles, Louisiana, reported that it’s ferrying workers from offshore platforms. Melanie Landry, a spokeswoman for ERA, declined to comment on which companies had called for evacuations.

Hurricane Center wind forecasts show the storm’s winds reaching 75 mph in three days. A storm becomes a hurricane when its winds reach 74 mph.

Wind shear in the Gulf is pushing most of Debby’s wind speed and thunderstorms to its eastern edge, said Mike Pigott, a senior meteorologist with State College, Pennsylvania-based AccuWeather Inc.

“As long as it remains over the open, warm waters of the Gulf, it could continue to gain strength,” he said. “If the shear relaxes, it could become a hurricane before reaching Texas.”

Debby is the fourth storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. It’s the first time since record-keeping began in 1851 that four storms have formed in the Atlantic before July 1, said Dennis Feltgen, Hurricane Center spokesman.

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