Chevron Corp., Shell Oil and BP PLC began evacuating employees from offshore oil and gas platforms and drilling rigs as Tropical Storm Rita churned Monday toward the Gulf of Mexico and threatened to compound the damage left by Hurricane Katrina.
BP planned to evacuate about half its 1,500 offshore workers Monday. BP was removing workers from platforms near the Alabama coast and in the deepwater central Gulf and will decide in coming days whether to evacuate from the western Gulf, spokeswoman Ayana McIntosh-Lee said.
Shell Oil said it removed 195 nonessential employees Sunday and planned to take away 350 more on Monday, beginning with easternmost platforms. Shell has 800 workers on the Gulf.
Chevron did not disclose the number of employees and contractors it evacuated. It removed 2,100 workers ahead of Hurricane Katrina. Chevron and Shell Oil, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch/Shell Group, are two of the biggest producers in the Gulf.
Marathon Oil Corp. was evacuating 40 people doing repair work on three platforms damaged by Katrina, a spokesman said.
Others, including Exxon Mobil Corp., ConocoPhillips Co., Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Apache Corp. said they were watching the storm’s track but had not begun evacuations.
The federal Minerals Management Service said Monday afternoon that five drilling rigs had been evacuated, up from two on Friday, for a total of 3.7 percent of the 134 rigs operating in the Gulf.
Drilling rigs are tethered to the Gulf floor and not as secure in storms. As a result, they are generally evacuated before the more-stable platforms, which are used to pump oil after the well is drilled.
The agency said Monday afternoon that 83 platforms had been evacuated, almost all of them near New Orleans, equal to more than 10 percent of manned platforms, but that those had been unoccupied since Hurricane Katrina.
About 56 percent of the Gulf’s oil production remained out of operation Monday, reflecting damage in the Gulf and on shore from Katrina. About one-third of the Gulf’s gas production was also out, the agency said. Those figures were barely changed from Friday.
Oil and gas companies in the Gulf study weather forecasts and must decide, often days in advance, whether to organize evacuation efforts involving helicopters and boats.
“These storms are pretty big and broad sometimes, so you take no chances,” said Chevron spokesman Mickey Driver. “This is standard operating procedure when storms like Rita appear.”
Rita was spinning near the Florida Keys, and its predicted path through the Gulf could delay repair work being done on rigs and platforms damaged by Katrina.
Paul Weeditz of Marathon said repair crews at three platforms in the South Pass area, in the center of the Gulf, were knocked out by Katrina might have to be evacuated as Rita moves closer. The Houston-based company, which has one other platform, said it had not yet been evacuated.
Weeditz said Katrina had not changed Marathon’s threshold for removing employees.
“All these storms are looked at very carefully,” he said. “We’re not going to leave anything to chance. We are going to do what has to be done to protect our people and contractors and assets.”