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BP Prepares For Possible Tropical Storm in Gulf of Mexico

London-based supermajor BP plc on Friday was taking precautions in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) as a tropical disturbance with the potential to grow into a larger storm rolled out of the Atlantic Ocean near Cuba.

On Friday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said shower and thunderstorm activity associated with a weak area of low pressure extending from the northeastern coast of Cuba to the central Bahamas had "increased in the past few hours, but remains disorganized and is located mainly to the east and southeast of the low." Conditions were expected to remain unfavorable for significant development through Saturday, but "could become a little more conducive for development early next week when the system approaches the eastern Gulf of Mexico."

NHC placed the odds of the low pressure strengthening into a tropical cyclone at 30% through Sunday and 60% through the middle of next week.

At midday Friday, forecasters at NatGasWeather said the system's strength over the next few days remained unclear.

"The latest storm intensity forecasts continue to show a huge spread, but with two main clusters. One cluster shows the system struggling to hold together and remaining weak  into next week. A second camp shows it strengthening into a tropical storm late this weekend, then approaching hurricane criteria next week," NatGasWeather said.

"The system is expected to move over very warm sea surface temperatures over the next two days, while upper level winds should become slightly more favorable. This could lead to the gradual strengthening of the system, but not with certainty. Simply put, a westward shift in track has been confirmed in the latest weather data toward the Gulf of Mexico, but now the issue is whether the disturbance will strengthen. It was looking close to dead this morning, but has seen an increase in thunderstorm coverage the past few hours, but is still quite far from tropical storm or hurricane status."

On Friday morning, BP said it was closely monitoring the tropical disturbance "to ensure the safety of our personnel and operations in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico.

"With forecasts indicating the system could enter the Gulf of Mexico, we are now taking additional steps to respond. BP has begun securing offshore facilities and evacuating nonessential personnel from our platforms and drilling rigs."

Chevron and Shell said they were closely monitoring the system.

Destin Pipeline, which is majority owned by BP, said Friday it has initiated Phase 2 of its Severe Weather Contingency Plan, which includes the evacuation of all non-essential personnel from its onshore facilities, including the MP260 platform.

"In the event that it becomes necessary to move to Phase 3, all personnel will be evacuated from MP260 and all flows from the Okeanos Gas Gathering Pipeline, the Marlin and Horn Mountain laterals will be shut in," Destin said in a notice posted on its website.

NHC on Friday was also tracking a weak area of disturbed weather located over the north-central GOM. Surface pressures in the area were high and little development of the system was expected before it reached the Texas coast over the weekend, NHC said.

And NHC was keeping an eye on the seventh named storm of the 2016 hurricane season, Tropical Storm Gaston, which was located about 1,100 miles east-southeast of Bermuda with maximum sustained winds near 65 mph.

The first 12 weeks of the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season have been mostly quiet, but the recent uptick in tropical storm activity has added some hurricane premium into the natural gas market (see Daily GPIAug. 26).

Some forecasters still expect tropical activity this year that could threaten energy interests in the GOM and along the eastern seaboard (see Daily GPI, Aug. 11).

In an updated 2016 Atlantic hurricane season outlook released earlier this month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said they still expect this to be the most active hurricane season since 2012. NOAA forecasters said they see a 70% chance of 12-17 named storms in the Atlantic, of which five to eight could become hurricanes, including two to four major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher).

That's a slight increase from NOAA's pre-hurricane season forecast, which called for a 70% likelihood of 10-16 named storms, of which four to eight could become hurricanes, including one to four major hurricanes (see Daily GPIMay 27).

Forecasters at Colorado State University (CSU), on the other hand, continue to forecast a near-average Atlantic hurricane season. The most recent CSU forecast calls for a total of 15 named storms this year, six of them hurricanes, including two major hurricanes. CSU's pre-season forecast differed only in that it called for 13 named storms this year (see Daily GPIApril 15). There is also a 41% chance of at least one major hurricane tracking into the Caribbean this year, compared to a 42% average over the last century, they said.

A typical Atlantic hurricane season produces a dozen named storms.

A combination of fewer tropical storms and a lessening reliance on Gulf of Mexico oil and natural gas production (thanks to the growth in production out of inland shale plays) has kept hurricane-related damage to the nation's energy infrastructure and markets to a minimum in recent years.

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