Image: Mexican oil rigs
Pemex  /  AP file
Hurricane Dean was projected to hit the center of Mexican oil and natural gas production on Tuesday.
updated 8/21/2007 10:53:48 PM ET 2007-08-22T02:53:48

Mexico closed down its remaining offshore oil and gas operations Tuesday and evacuated the last skeleton crews from oil platforms as a weakened Hurricane Dean swirled into the Gulf of Mexico.

Normally, more than 1,000 workers extract oil from seven platforms in the northern region of Pemex’s offshore oil operations. By Tuesday morning, no more than 10 were left on each rig, and Mexico’s state oil company, Pemex, decided to remove them as well as a precaution, spokesman Enrique Matus Bocanegra said.

Offshore rigs in the Campeche Sound to the south had been shut down on Monday.

While the offshore platforms are built to withstand hurricanes, “there is always a risk,” Matus said earlier.

Pemex’s land-based operations are still functioning, but those produce just a fraction of the country’s petroleum output. Even so, Pemex said it has “sufficient stores of petroleum products to meet demand during and after the hurricane.”

The platforms, a half-hour helicopter ride from the oil city of Poza Rica, are linked to 32 underwater wells that pump 18,000 barrels of crude each day under normal conditions.

Topping Pemex’s concern was the main oil-producing zone west of the city of Campeche, directly in the storm’s path.

18,000 evacuated
Dean emerged from its passage across the Yucatan Peninsula as a minimal hurricane with 85 mph winds, but it was expected to re-strengthen to near-Category 3 force by the time it hits the mainland coast, probably near Poza Rica, on Wednesday.

Mexico had planned to close all three of its oil-exporting ports ahead of the storm, but the reduced winds enabled it to keep open the Pajaritos port at Coatzalcaolcos at the Gulf’s extreme southern end.

But production remained shut down in the Campeche Sound’s Cantarell field, where more than 18,000 workers were evacuated from platforms Sunday and Monday. That cut off 80 percent of Mexico’s total production — 2.7 million barrels of oil and 2.6 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day.

Closing the 32 wells off the northern Gulf coast cuts off 130 million cubic feet of natural gas daily in addition to the oil, Pemex said.

Pemex produced an average of 3.2 million barrels crude oil a day in the first six months of 2007, of which 2.6 million barrels came from its offshore fields.

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