Update: Chevron, Shell, BP and Apache begin Gulf evacuations

BP shut down production and started evacuating workers from a large platform in the Gulf of Mexico as oil companies monitored and reacted Friday to the progress of Tropical Storm Isaac, which appears headed for the northern Gulf in the coming days.

Shell ceased drilling operations in some areas of the Gulf, but has not shut down any production so far. The company said it has started evacuating non-essential personnel from some facilities.

Chevron and Apache said they were also evacuating non-essential workers from some gulf facilities.

Transocean has evacuated 18 non-essential workers from one of its deep-water Gulf rigs, as a precautionary measure. The company has 13 deep-water rigs in the Gulf and one en route there from Africa.

BP said it has begun clearing all workers from the platform, located about 150 miles southeast of New Orleans, at a water depth of about 6,050 feet. The Thunder Horse platform is capable of producing and exporting 250,000 barrels a day of oil from several wells in the area.

BP has also started evacuating non-essential personnel from several other offshore facilities.

BP, Shell and other companies say they are continuing to monitor the Isaac’s movement.

Shell said the personnel it evacuated would not affect its production operations.

“These personnel are not essential to core producing and drilling operations and will not be able to perform their normal work functions during the passing storm conditions,” the company said in a statement.

The storm will weaken as it passes over Hispaniola and Cuba this weekend, but it could force more evacuations and interrupt operations at oil platforms if it brings strong winds into the Gulf.

Once the storm progresses into the Gulf, it could become more powerful, the Houston Chronicle’s Eric Berger reports.

A key question remains how strong Isaac might get once it moves into the Gulf. That is highly dependent upon how far off Florida’s west coast Isaac is as it moves northwest through the Gulf of Mexico. If it’s within 50 or 75 miles, it should remain a fairly weak system If it’s 100 miles or more off the coast it will have ample opportunity to strengthen.

If personnel, platforms or drilling rigs appear to be threatened by a storm, oil companies typically evacuate non-essential Gulf personnel immediately, followed by essential personnel if conditions worsen.

Producers in the Gulf shut in wells earlier this year, when Tropical Storm Debby moved over part of the Gulf and settled over Florida, soaking the Sunshine State.