Oil and natural gas companies shut production across the Gulf of Mexico as they moved workers out of the path of Tropical Storm Gustav ahead of what could be the worst hurricane to strike the nation’s offshore oil patch since 2005.
Tropical Storm Gustav was expected to strengthen to a powerful Category 3 hurricane over the weekend before tearing into offshore production areas early next week.
With about a quarter of US oil output and 15% of natural gas production in Gustav’s path, US crude oil shot up $3 early today to above $118 per barrel as traders eyed possible supply disruption.
As of today, 6.62% of Gulf oil production and 1.84% of natural gas production were shut in due to Gustav, the US Minerals Management Service said.
The losses from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, combined with delays from bringing on-line large projects like BP Thunder Horse, have produced “a multi-year, and now likely irreversible decline in oil production from the region,” wrote CIBC World Markets Chief Economist Jeff Rubin in a report.
While the place on the Louisiana or Texas coasts where Gustav would make landfall was unclear to forecasters on Friday, analysts said energy prices were sure to rise.
“With both oil and gasoline inventories much lower than when Katrina and Rita hit, the price consequences could be even worse this time,” Rubin wrote.
Offshore operators fired off a string of notices that they were shutting down offshore platforms.
Shell began shutting down production at some platforms yesterday.
BP, Apache and Chevron were among offshore operators that followed suit on today.
In addition, the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port said it would stop offloading tankers tomorrow ahead of massive storm swells expected from Gustav.
And Sabine Pipeline, operator of the Henry Hub, said it could begin shutting down pipeline operations as early as Sunday morning.
Crude oil and gasoline prices shot to then-record highs following 2005’s Katrina and Rita, which wrecked over 120 offshore platforms, destroyed underwater pipelines and shut 25% of US oil and fuel production for months.
Traders are also nervously eyeing Tropical Storm Hanna in the Atlantic, which is on track to hit Florida but could veer into key energy-production areas in the Gulf.
“Last night, one of the models took Hanna basically right where Gustav makes landfall, only four days later,” said one Texas energy trader.
Motiva Enterprises, a joint venture between Shell and Saudi Refining, said the workforce at its 236,000 barrel per day Norco refinery in Louisiana was reduced to a skeleton staff, but the refinery continued to operate at planned rates.
Other refiners were also preparing their plants for the storm.