Companies end preparations, Gustav hits production areas (Updated)

The federal government’s daily report on Gulf of Mexico evacuations and shut-ins has just come out, and as of late this morning, the basin is a virtual ghost town.
The Minerals Management Service, which regulates offshore Gulf oil and gas activity, says personnel have been evacuated from 518, or more than 72 percent, of the 717 manned platforms in the Gulf. Workers from 86, or more than 71 percent, of the 121 rigs have been whisked ashore as well.
More than 96 percent of oil production and more than 82 percent of natural gas production has also been shut in.
And as if Gustav weren’t enough, Tropical Storm Hanna is brewing east of Cuba. The National Hurricane Center currently forecasts that Hanna will travel north toward the east coast of Florida, but it’s early and Gulf operators are watching. If it follows Gustav into the Gulf, it could hamper post-storm inspections of oil and gas installations.
Frank Glaviano, vice president of Production Americas for Royal Dutch Shell, says Shell first will fly airplanes over structures to assess damage and ascertain whether they can land a helicopter on the helipads. Then they do a closer inspection and ensure power and communications are working before they start taking workers back to platforms. It takes a couple of days to start up significant production, and it can take several days for subsea wells to crank back up.
By then operators will have a better idea of where Hanna is going and plan accordingly.
“We’re looking into later in the week anyway, and by that time Hanna will show if it’s a threat,” Glaviano said.
The oil and gas industry was wrapping up evacuations of workers on Gulf of Mexico platforms today and halted production. Now it’s a matter of waiting for Hurricane Gustav’s furious winds and waves to pass through and see if all their preparation for major storms stands up.
Like most other Gulf operators, Anadarko says today its workers are ashore and production at the eight platforms it operates is shut in, meaning valves under the seabed have been closed to stop the flow and prevent any leaks. A little more than a year ago the Independence Hub, operated by Anadarko and majority owned by Enterprise Products Partners, started pumping natural gas. The Hub is the world’s deepest platform in 8,000 feet of water about 185 miles southeast of New Orleans and can produce up to 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day, or about 2 percent of U.S. gas production.
Exxon Mobil, Chevron. BP and Royal Dutch Shell have evacuated all offshore personnel.
Bentek Energy, a Golden, Colo. firm that tracks fundamentals for the natural gas market, said today that the Hub’s flows went from 900 million cubic feet of gas on Friday to zero today.
Gustav will be the first major storm to pass over the Hub as well as other new Gulf installations. Earlier this year Chevron shipped two new platforms to their locations in Gustav’s path _ Blind Faith and Tahiti. Blind Faith was shipped out intact in March from Ingleside, with its decks attached. Tahiti’s spar hull was later shipped 190 miles south of New Orleans and uprighted and anchored before its decks were installed. Chevron spokesman Mickey Driver says both were built in consideration of the kind of storm Katrina was.
Just last month Royal Dutch Shell also shipped the spar hull of its new Perdido platform to its home 200 miles south of Freeport in the western part of the Gulf, but it isn’t in Gustav’s current projected path.
Not only is Gustav headed down the throat of most of the nation’s offshore production facilities in the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf Coast is home to 42 percent of the nation’s refining capacity, and onshore facilities are finishing their preparations today for Gustav’s arrival.
Marathon is shutting down its Garyville, La. refinery, and ConocoPhillips is shutting down its Alliance refinery in Belle Chasse, La. and its Lake Charles, La. plant. ConocoPhillips expects Alliance to be closed and all personnel released by tonight and Lake Charles by tomorrow morning. The company’s Sweeny refinery is continuing normal operations, but plans are in place to shut it down and release workers if necessary.
Royal Dutch Shell and Motiva refineries and chemical plants have released most non-emergency operations workers and emergency operations centers are in place at Motiva’s Norco, Convent and Port Arthur refineries as well as Shell’s Norco, Geismar and Mobile chemical facilities. Shell Deer Park is operating while monitoring the storm.
And Exxon Mobil’s Chalmette, La. refinery is shutting down, having released all personnel except those needed to turn everything off. The company says normal operations continue at other refineries and chemical plants along the Gulf Coast, though they have prepared for the storm with emergency response teams at the ready.