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Oil firms evacuate gulf platforms due to storm

Oil companies Friday evacuated some workers from platforms as Hurricane Katrina entered the Gulf of Mexico, with one company shutting a small amount of crude oil and natural gas production, the companies said.
/ Source: Reuters

Oil companies Friday evacuated some workers from platforms as Hurricane Katrina entered the Gulf of Mexico, with one company shutting a small amount of crude oil and natural gas production, the companies said.

Total shut some of its offshore production while at least five others evacuated workers but had not cut production.

Katrina strengthened to a Category 2 -- winds of at least 96 mph -- hurricane Friday but its projected path lies east of most of the offshore production rigs.

Most companies said that if the storm takes a more westerly tack, more crude and natural gas production may be shut-in. The projected path is west of Thursday's estimates, but still east of the heart of crude and gas production in the gulf, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Katrina is expected to become a major hurricane on Saturday, a Category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson scale, which means sustained winds of at least 111 mph.

The next landfall is expected Monday in the Florida panhandle.

This is east of the major oil refineries on the Gulf Coast.

Some private forecasters said the storm could hit land as far west as eastern Louisiana, which would put the storm over gas and oil platforms and pipelines south of Mississippi and Alabama.

The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port was operating normally on Friday, a LOOP spokeswoman said. During some storms, the LOOP stops offloading oil tankers carrying foreign crude.

Apache Corp., Murphy Corp. and Kerr-McGee Corp. Friday also evacuated some workers but were not cutting production in the eastern gulf. Thursday, BP Plc and Shell Oil also evacuated workers but kept production going.

"If the storm takes a more westerly track" Murphy may decide to alter its plans, said company spokeswoman Mindy West.

About 25 percent of domestic U.S. production of natural gas and crude oil comes from offshore operations in the gulf. Offshore production capacity is 1.5 million barrels per day of crude and 10 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas.

Total Friday shut in 16,500 bpd of crude oil production and 259 million cubic feet per day of natural gas production and evacuated 53 workers.

Katrina hit Florida for the first time Thursday evening when it came ashore between Miami and Fort Lauderdale. At least four were killed in separate incidents.

About 1.45 million Florida Power and Light Co. customers lost electricity, and on Friday morning, about 1.1 million were still without power, the company said.

Shell Thursday said it would take 120 workers from offshore platforms. Shell Oil is the U.S. unit of oil giant Royal Dutch Shell Plc.

BP did not say how many workers it was evacuating. On Friday, it began evacuating some workers from Gulf shelf operations in addition to its deepwater platforms.

Exxon Mobil Corp., ConocoPhillips and Marathon Oil spokesmen Friday morning said they are monitoring the storm, but had not evacuated any workers or cut production.

Anadarko said the storm is likely to miss its platforms in the gulf and was not planning to evacuate any workers or cut production.