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Tropical Storm Hermine Stalled in GOM, 360 MMcf/d Shut-In

Tropical Storm Hermine -- upgraded from Tropical Depression Nine on Wednesday afternoon -- was nearly immobile about 395 miles south-southwest of Apalachicola, FL, but forecasters expected it to begin moving to the northeast on Thursday.

Hermine's center is expected to approach the northwest Florida coast on Thursday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. By Friday morning the storm is forecast to be centered over southern Georgia, and it is likely to skirt the Atlantic coast into early next week.

On Wednesday, the storm's maximum sustained winds increased to 40 mph.

"Additional strengthening is forecast during the next day or two, and Hermine could be near hurricane strength by the time landfall occurs," NHC said Wednesday afternoon.

Based on data from offshore operator reports submitted through 11:30 a.m. CDT Wednesday, personnel had been evacuated from 10 production platforms, versus nine reported Tuesday (see Daily GPIAug. 30), and 1.3% of the 750 manned platforms in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), according to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE).

Personnel had also been evacuated from one of the 11 rigs currently operating in the GOM -- unchanged from Tuesday -- and five DP rigs have been moved off location out of the storm's path, the same as on Tuesday, BSEE said.

On Wednesday, 360 MMcf/d were shut in. The agency estimated that 19.52% of the current oil production in the GOM was shut in (down from 22.06% on Tuesday), and 10.59% of natural gas production (up slightly from 10.18% 24 hours earlier).

Royal Dutch Shell plc, which had shut in production at the Coulomb field Monday, said Wednesday it was returning personnel to its offshore assets in the GOM as forecasts showed TD9 moving away from its operations. TD9 did not affect production at any Shell-operated assets.

"We are in the process of safely resuming drilling operations that were suspended as a precautionary measure," Shell said. "The Coulomb subsea field (100% owned by Shell) will remain shut in until the associated nonoperated production hub, downstream oil and gas gathering systems and receipt points resume operations."

BP plc, which on Monday had evacuated all nonessential personnel from its four operated platforms in the GOM and had begun shutting in production at the Thunder Horse, Na Kika and Atlantis platforms, said Wednesday production had resumed at Atlantis. The Mad Dog offshore production platform is farther to the west in the deepwater GOM and continues to operate, BP said.

Destin Pipeline, which began evacuating all nonessential personnel from its onshore facilities late last week (see Daily GPIAug. 29), said Wednesday it remains in phase 3 of its severe weather contingency plan, with all personnel evacuated from the Main Pass (MP) 260 platform. Destin receives gas from multiple offshore platforms and from the Okeanos Gas Gathering System, moving north to the processing plant at Pascagoula, MS.

"All receipt points at MP 260, including the Okeanos Gas Gathering System, Marlin and Horn Mountain remain shut in," according to Destin, which is majority owned by BP. All delivery points, including the Viosca Knoll Gathering System, also remained shut in. “Transportation service on Destin's 24-inch lateral continues to be available for deliveries to MP 261JP. The 24-inch lateral will remain isolated from MP 260. Destin's ability to flow on the 24-inch lateral will be dependent on downstream operations."

Hermine may not have the same impact on natural gas prices as similar storms in the past.

"Previous years' storm systems in the GOM have taken out as much as 3,600 MMcf/d of production, but storms' impacts on production and prices have been diminishing in recent years," according to Genscape Inc. analyst Allison Hurley.

"Historically, tropical storms would trigger price increases at Henry Hub due to the production disruptions," she said in a note Wednesday. "However, over time, storm systems have tended to correlate better with price declines at Hub for two reasons. One: as more production has moved onshore, offshore storms' impact to production has diminished. Two: demand growth along the Gulf Coast has enabled storms to become more of a demand-destruction-type event."

Florida Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order Wednesday declaring a state of emergency in 42 counties in preparation for Hermine's arrival. Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) said it was making final preparations to respond to the storm, moving about 5,000 field workers and support staff into place so they would be ready to restore power to affected customers.

NHC on Wednesday also continued tracking TD8, which was about 135 miles east of Cape Hatteras, NC, moving to the northeast with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph. Some strengthening was expected and TD8 could still become a tropical storm, but it was forecast to move mostly away from the East Coast over the next 48 hours.

Hurricane Gaston, now a Category 3 hurricane, was about 1,150 miles west of the central Azores, packing maximum sustained winds of 115 mph, NHC said. Gaston was expected to weaken as it moves eastward across the central Atlantic.

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