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Hurricane Wilma forces evacuation of oil rigs

Storm-stung energy companies have evacuated more than 1,100 workers and trimmed production from Gulf of Mexico rigs as precautions against Hurricane Wilma, which is expected to blow far from the oil-and-gas-rich region, officials said Friday.
/ Source: Reuters

Storm-stung energy companies have evacuated more than 1,100 workers and trimmed production from Gulf of Mexico rigs as precautions against Hurricane Wilma, which is expected to blow far from the oil-and-gas-rich region, officials said Friday.

Wilma, a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 140 mph, was expected to avoid the Gulf of Mexico by heading north after hitting Mexico’s Caribbean coast, according to the National Hurricane Center. It was forecast to hit southern Florida on Sunday on route to the Atlantic Ocean.

“It is better to take the precaution. People have learned that lesson,” said William Ferer, president of investment firm W.H. Reaves & Co.

Companies were cautious particularly after hurricanes Katrina and Rita toppled platforms and shuttered refineries in August and September.

Oil major Chevron Corp. said it was removing 800 essential and nonessential workers ahead of the storm.

Drilling company Transocean Inc. has evacuated 315 workers from 10 U.S. Gulf of Mexico oil and natural gas rigs and ships.

BP said it was removing an unspecified number of workers ahead of the storm.

The precautions taken on Wilma slightly added to the amount of oil and gas output that is still suppressed in the Gulf after Katrina and Rita damaged facilities.

The Minerals Management Service said on Friday 65.79 percent of oil output in the Gulf is shut, up from 64.52 percent on Thursday. Shut in natural gas output rose more than 1 percent to 53.37 percent on Friday.

But energy companies do not expect Wilma to cause major additional damage or big impact to energy production.

“No, production has not been curtailed,” said Chevron spokesman Michael Carmichael.

A Shell Oil Co. spokesman said the storm has not forced the company to remove workers.

Mexico output normal
Mexico’s offshore oil platforms were operating as normal on Friday and crude tankers were leaving ports, state energy monopoly Pemex said.

Pemex expected Wilma to keep a safe distance from the Bay of Campeche, where Pemex’s oil operations are concentrated.

“They say there’s no real change in weather conditions over there. They are on the alert but they are not evacuating oil platforms,” a Pemex spokesman said after speaking to Pemex officials in the Campeche area.

Mexico, the No. 2 supplier to the United States, has had to briefly shut down oil rigs or close exporting ports several times in recent weeks due to the spate of storms passing through the Gulf of Mexico.

In the United States, Anadarko Petroleum, which operates the Marco Polo platform, said on Thursday it would evacuate 35 people. “That will leave 15 essential personnel and production will not be affected,” a spokeswoman said.

A “miss” for Wilma would be good news for the U.S. oil industry after Katrina and Rita delivered a one-two punch that knocked the nation’s crude production in September to the lowest level since World War II.

The storms also sliced deeply into U.S. fuel production capacity, briefly cutting 25 percent of the nation’s output and bringing refining activity to the lowest on record.

As of Friday, five refineries, accounting for nearly 8 percent of U.S. refining capacity, remained completely shut in the aftermath of Katrina and Rita.