HOUSTON (Reuters) – Energy firms and ports along the U.S. Gulf Coast prepared on Tuesday for another test as Hurricane Zeta, the 11th hurricane of the season, entered the Gulf of Mexico.
BP, Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell, among others, evacuated 157 offshore facilities and sharply cut production from the offshore region. Pipeline operator Enbridge evacuated two platforms and removed workers from a Louisiana natural gas processing plant.
Some oil producers were pulling staff for at least the sixth time since June, a process made more difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic with workers required to be tested for the virus before returning to work.
Energy producers on Tuesday shut nearly half the region’s oil output, or 914,811 barrels per day (bpd), and 1.5 billion cubic feet per day, or more than half its natural gas output, the U.S. offshore energy regulator said.
U.S. Gulf of Mexico offshore oil production accounts for about 17% of total U.S. crude oil output and 5% of total U.S. dry natural gas production.
Zeta’s winds decreased to 65 miles per hour (100 kph) after sweeping across the Yucatan Peninsula early Tuesday but are forecast to restrengthen to 85 mph as its churns over the central Gulf of Mexico, the NHC said in a mid-day update.
On Monday, it became the 11th hurricane of the Atlantic season, which on average has six.
A hurricane watch was issued for parts of Louisiana to the Mississippi-Alabama border by the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC). Zeta could hit the U.S. coast on Wednesday at or near hurricane strength, the NHC said.
Energy ports from Baton Rouge to Pascagoula were operating under advisories warning of the potential for gale force winds. A Louisiana deep water oil export port said it was implementing its inclement weather plan.
U.S. crude futures gained 1.8% in Tuesday trading after falling more than 3% on Monday over fears of rising COVID-19 cases and increased crude supplies.
(Reporting by Erwin Seba; Writing by Gary McWilliams; Editing by David Holmes and Grant McCool)