Shale boom has made U.S. oil production less vulnerable to hurricanes

Hurricanes no longer pose as much of a threat to domestic production as they once did since the shale boom reduced the United States’ reliance on oil and gas extracted offshore, according to a new federal analysis.

Advances in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling fueled a shale drilling bonanza on U.S. soil that has filled the nation’s storage tanks with more fossil fuel than the country can use. With so much oil and gas coming from oil fields spread across the country, the U.S. is no longer so dependent on getting its energy sources from the Gulf of Mexico.

In 2003, the Gulf of Mexico produced 27 percent of the nation’s crude oil output, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said. A decade later, that share had dropped to 16 percent.  Natural gas production from the Gulf tumbled from a high of 26 percent in 1997 to just 4 percent in 2014.

In recent years, energy companies have experienced relatively few disruptions because of tropical storms and hurricanes. There were no storm-related shut-ins last year, the EIA said.

With forecasters expecting a below-normal hurricane season this year, EIA in June predicted that storm-related disruptions n 2015 would affect 9.7 million barrels of crude oil production and 15.9 billion cubic feet of natural gas production.

Strong storms can wreak havoc on offshore production, even affecting rigs and crews not directly in their path as companies evacuate their crews anyway as a precautionary measure. In 2005, two massive storms — Hurricane Katrina and Rita — made landfall within a month of each other, shutting down nearly all offshore operations for several days and forcing producers to run at reduced levels for months afterward, the EIA said. Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008 shut down almost all Gulf of Mexico production.

U.S. oil production may be less vulnerable to hurricanes, but about half the nation’s refining sector is located along the U.S. Gulf Coast, which is especially susceptible to storms. Still, the ability to tap into huge stockpiles of crude oil, both in the U.S. and stored across the world, could offset any weather-related supply disruptions, the EIA said. And the U.S has boosted its natural gas processing capacity in areas away from the Gulf Coast, lessening the potential for processing outages caused by hurricanes and tropical storms.

Tropical Storm Erika is spinning about 65 miles south/southeast of the Dominican Republic and while forecasters believe it could break up over the mountains, they haven’t ruled out the possibility that it could head toward the Florida peninsula next week.