HOUSTON — September is about halfway through this year’s hurricane season, and so far the seas have been calm.
Every so often, the Atlantic produces a storm strong enough to shutter offshore oil and natural gas production and, if large enough, impact refining and transportation along the Gulf Coast. That hasn’t happened this year, and it looks unlikely thanks to an El Niño in the Pacific, which tends to prevent larger storms from forming, according a report by meteorologists at financial services firm Citi.
The hurricane season runs from early June through November, and usually peaks from mid-August through late October. This year’s season started early when Tropical Storm Ana struck South Carolina in May, but has been quiet since. No major hurricanes have formed.
At the beginning of the season, Citi’s meteorologists predicted 11 storms would become large enough to be named this year, versus the historical median of 12 named storms. The firm predicted six tropical storms and five hurricanes, with only one hurricane expected to enter the Gulf of Mexico. Their forecast was in line with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s prediction, which called for between six and 11 named storms, three through six hurricanes and as many as two major hurricanes.
Last year’s hurricane season was similarly calm, and since 2005, the only two hurricanes that have affected natural gas prices are Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. Tropical storms tend to actually push natural gas prices lower, as they cool off onshore areas and reduce the need for electricity to run air conditioning, Citi analysts said.
U.S. natural gas production has also become less vulnerable to disruptions caused by major storms. In 2015, about 5 percent of the country’s gas came from the Gulf, down from about 20 percent just ten years ago, Citi said. Of the companies covered by Citi, only Apache Corp., Hess Corp., Noble Corp. and Marathon Oil Corp. still have significant operations in the Gulf — though it is home to several other majors and international oil and gas producers.
Still, large storms can cause disruptions to the nation’s natural gas supply chain. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita shut in 800 billion cubic feet of production between August 2005 and September 2006, or about 4 percent of the U.S. total at the time.
Other storms have led to more minor shut-ins, mostly as a precaution.