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Isaac Leaves GOM Energy Interests Mostly Unscathed

Workers returning to offshore oil and gas facilities across the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) Friday were finding little or no damage as a result of Hurricane Isaac, according to several major GOM producers.

Isaac, which had been a Category 1 hurricane when it reached the Gulf Coast early Wednesday morning, was a tropical depression far from the GOM by Friday. The downgraded system was bringing heavy rain and the threat of flash flooding to the middle Mississippi River Valley, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The relevance of Isaac's path and timing was not lost on the people of the Gulf Coast nor the energy industry as the seven-year anniversary of the devastating landfall of Hurricane Katrina neared. Katrina, a Category 3 hurricane at landfall, hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005 (see NGI, Sept. 5, 2005). Combined with a double punch from Hurricane Rita, the two storms destroyed a significant amount of oil and gas infrastructure in the GOM and shut-in hundreds of Bcf and millions of barrels of oil (see NGI, June 12, 2006).

As Isaac moved north from the Gulf coast, President Obama on Thursday declared Louisiana and Mississippi disaster areas, clearing the way for federal aid to the states to supplement state and local recovery efforts.

But while energy infrastructure was shut down as a precaution as Isaac approached the GOM, it "appears not have suffered lasting damage" from the hurricane, RBN Energy said Friday.

BP plc, which is one of the biggest producers in the GOM, began shutting in production and evacuating all workers from its Thunder Horse oil and gas platform in the Mississippi Canyon area south of Louisiana and evacuating nonessential workers from the Na Kika, Horn Mountain and Marlin platforms well ahead of Isaac's arrival (see NGI, Aug. 27). Nearly 300 people work on Thunder Horse, which is the largest deepwater production unit in the world, with capacity to process up to 200 MMcf/d of gas and 250,000 b/d of oil.

By Friday BP was redeploying offshore personnel to its GOM production platforms and drilling rigs, and mobile drilling rigs, which had been moved out of Isaac's path, were returning to their locations. "While aerial surveys of our offshore facilities did not identify any significant damage, crews will perform closer inspections onsite," BP said. "Once deemed safe, facilities will be restarted and oil and natural gas production will recommence in coming days." BP was inspecting its onshore facilities in Louisiana and Mississippi and said operations at certain sites could resume as early as Friday.

Anadarko Petroleum Corp. began restaffing all of its operated, producing facilities in the eastern and central GOM Friday morning. On Thursday Anadarko reported that remote monitoring capabilities indicated that all of its facilities in the GOM, including the natural gas Independence Hub, were intact. Production was expected to restart at Anadarko facilities after on-site inspections and as third-party-operated pipelines and infrastructure permit.

The U.S. arm of Royal Dutch Shell plc began post mortem inspections and damage assessments of its GOM facilities on Thursday. "The outcome of these assessments will determine the timeline for a return to full operations," Shell said. Chevron Corp. began deploying personnel to its onshore and offshore facilities Thursday. In an operational update posted Friday, Chevron subsidiary Sabine Pipe Line LLC said operational capabilities on its natural gas pipeline in Erath, LA, and at the Henry Hub were unaffected by Isaac.

Based on data from offshore operator reports submitted as of 11:30 a.m. CDT Friday, the Bureau of Safety Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) estimated that about 68.34% (3.075 Bcf/d) of the current daily natural gas production, and 94.81% (1.308 million b/d) of daily oil output in the GOM was shut-in. Those numbers were down slightly from Thursday, when BSEE reported 75.52% (3.264 Bcf/d)of gas production and 94.99% (1.311 million b/d)of oil production was shut-in.

Personnel had been evacuated from 499 of the 596 manned production platforms, equivalent to 83.7% of the total platforms in the GOM. Personnel remained evacuated from 48 of the 76 rigs, BSEE said. On Thursday BSEE had reported 509 production platforms and 50 rigs were evacuated.

IHS Chemical said Isaac forced the shut-in of about 20 natural gas processing plants larger than 100 MMcf/d, along with declarations of force majeure by about 10 natural gas pipelines and restrictions on numerous others. Nearly 60% of the petrochemical and fluid catalytic cracking facilities in the coastal regions of Louisiana and Mississippi were also shut down as Isaac approached, IHS said.

Isaac left more than 769,000 Energy customers in Louisiana and Mississippi without electricity, the New Orleans-based utility said Thursday, and that number was closer to a million overall in the region.

The Department of Energy (DOE) announced Friday that it had agreed to lend 1 million bbl of sweet crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve's (SPR) Bayou Choctaw site in Louisiana to Marathon Petroleum Corp. "to address the short term impact on the company's refining capacity caused by Hurricane Isaac, which is resulting in limited crude oil shortages." The loan "is distinct from a release from the SPR," and Marathon has agreed to return an equal amount of similar quality oil, plus "premium barrels, which is similar to interest," within three months, DOE said.

BP said it would donate $1 million to support disaster relief efforts in Louisiana and Mississippi following Hurricane Isaac. The donation is to be made to the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army and divided equally between the two states, BP said.

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