Caribbean Storm System Prompts Evacuations in Gulf of Mexico

A low-pressure system in the northwestern Caribbean Sea prompted energy companies including BP Plc to evacuate workers in the Gulf of Mexico and may strengthen into a tropical storm today.

The system has the potential to become a tropical storm “at any time” today, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said on its website before 2 a.m. New York time. The area of low pressure is near the northeastern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and has gale force winds east of the center.

“Heavy rains could affect portions of Cuba and portions of the Yucatan Peninsula during the next day or two,” the hurricane center said. “An Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter aircraft is scheduled to investigate the low later this morning.”

Storms in the Gulf can affect U.S. and Mexican oil and natural gas operations. The region is home to 23 percent of U.S. crude production, 5.6 percent of gas output and more than 45 percent of petroleum refining capacity, according to the Energy Department.

The Bay of Campeche in the southwestern Gulf is where Petroleos Mexicanos, Mexico’s state-owned oil company, has its two largest oil fields. They produce about 1.25 million barrels a day.

A system becomes a tropical storm and gets a name when its maximum sustained winds reach 39 miles (65 kilometers) per hour.

Gulf Evacuations

Destin Pipeline Co. evacuated all non-essential personnel yesterday from operations in the central and eastern part of the Gulf, according to a company notice. BP Plc also said it was pulling non-essential workers at four deepwater production platforms.

PHI Inc., a Lafayette, Louisiana-based helicopter operator with clients in the oil and gas industry, said in an e-mailed statement that one customer has evacuated non-essential workers from operations in the western Gulf of Mexico.

The system was forecast to cross the Yucatan Peninsula overnight and enter the Gulf, according to the hurricane center.

Computer forecast models then take it north, where it will probably go ashore somewhere between Mobile Bay, Alabama, and Panama City, Florida, this weekend, Dan Kottlowski, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania, said yesterday.

The hurricane center is also tracking Tropical Depression Jerry, which has top-sustained winds of 35 mph. It was 1,030 miles west-southwest of the Azores and doesn’t pose an immediate threat to land.

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