Tropical storm forces Gulf shutdowns and evacuations

Energy companies have evacuated workers from roughly 200 offshore oil and gas facilities in Tropical Storm Karen’s potential path and shut in about half of the Gulf of Mexico’s daily crude production.

The amount of daily oil production now offline amounts to about 693,345 barrels of oil per day. Roughly 40 percent of the Gulf’s daily gas production — or 1,947 million cubic feet per day — also has been shut in, as companies prepare for the advancing storm.

In reports filed with federal offshore drilling regulators, 41 companies said they had moved drilling rigs, evacuated facilities or taken production offline. Major oil companies operating in the Gulf, including Exxon Mobil Corp., Anadarko Petroleum Corp., BP, Chevron Corp. and Shell Oil Co., previously said they were moving personnel and equipment away from the storm’s projected track.

So far, workers have fled 185 platforms and 18 drilling rigs, about a third of those working in the Gulf of Mexico. In addition, four dynamically positioned rigs have been moved away from the wells on which they were working.

Oil prices climbed Friday on the news of shut-in Gulf production; by early afternoon, West Texas Intermediate for November delivery was trading at $103.85, up 54 cents.

The storm is expected to make landfall on Saturday night. Although its winds had weakened by late Friday morning, according to the National Weather Service, meteorologists said it may strengthen again before reaching the coast.

Despite the government shutdown, some federal offshore drilling regulators at the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement remain on the job and have activated a Gulf Coast emergency operations center to monitor weather and the oil and gas industry’s response.

Bureau spokesman David Smith noted that the agency “has continued operations critical to the oversight of safe and environmentally responsible offshore oil and natural gas operations” and will “make data available to and coordinate with our federal partners as the storm develops.”

The Gulf of Mexico is responsible for about a quarter of U.S. oil production overall, but represents just a small sliver — about 5 percent — of U.S. gas production.