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GOM Operators Still On Edge as Tropical Storm Stalls West of Florida

Oil and natural gas companies in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) appeared to have adopted a wait and see attitude Tuesday as Tropical Depression Nine (TD9) churned to the west of Cuba, with a move toward Florida -- and not into the central GOM -- expected by Wednesday.

At 11 a.m. EDT, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said TD9 was continuing to pour torrential rains over western Cuba, moving west-northwest at just 7 mph, with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph. TD9 was located about 310 miles west of Havana and 340 miles west of Key West, FL.

"A turn toward the northwest is expected later today, followed by a turn toward the north-northwest tonight," NHC said. "A turn toward the north-northeast is expected on Wednesday. On the forecast track, the center of the depression will continue to move slowly away from western Cuba, and move toward the eastern Gulf of Mexico during the next 48 hours." TD9 was expected to strengthen during the day and become a tropical storm before Wednesday.

Based on data from offshore operator reports submitted through 11:30 a.m. CDT Tuesday, personnel had been evacuated from nine production platforms, three more than the six reported Monday (see Daily GPI, Aug. 29), but still just 1.2% of the 750 manned platforms in the 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 Monday -- and seven DP rigs have been moved off location out of the storm's path, two more than on Monday, BSEE said.

The agency estimated that about 22.06% of the current oil production in the Gulf of Mexico was shut in, and about 10.18% of natural gas production, both about double the amount shut in 24 hours earlier.

Shell said that it safely shut in production at the Coulomb field Monday following the shut-in of associated downstream oil and gas gathering systems and receipt points. The Coulomb is 100% owned by Shell and produces back to the Na Kika platform, which is operated by BP plc (50%) and co-owned by Shell (50%). Production at other Shell-operated assets was unaffected, Shell said.

BP said late Monday that it had evacuated all non-essential personnel from its four operated platforms in the GOM and had begun shutting in production at the Thunder Horse, Na Kika and Atlantis platforms. The Mad Dog offshore production platform is farther to the west and continues to operate, BP said.

NHC was also tracking TD8, which was nearly stationary about 70 miles south of Cape Hatteras, NC, Tuesday afternoon. Maximum sustained winds were near 35 mph. TD8 had not strengthened as previously forecast and was expected to move toward the north and then the northeast through Wednesday, with the center of the depression expected to be near the Outer Banks of North Carolina Tuesday evening.

Hurricane Gaston, packing maximum sustained winds of 105 mph and expected to remain a powerful hurricane through midweek, was about 695 miles east of Bermuda at 11 a.m. AST Tuesday, NHC said. Gaston was forecast to begin moving to the east-northeast for the next couple of days.

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