Natural gas and oil producers and pipeline operators working in the eastern part of the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) began shutting in production and evacuating platforms and rigs early Thursday in preparation for Tropical Storm (TS) Nate, which potentially could make landfall on the Gulf Coast this weekend.

In its 2 p.m. EDT advisory on Thursday, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Nate was inland over northeastern Nicaragua, moving toward the northwest near 9 mph. Maximum sustained winds were near 40 mph, with strengthening expected as the center moved over the northwestern Caribbean Sea by Friday. Based on initial tracking, Nate could make landfall east of New Orleans.

Based on data from offshore operator reports submitted to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) as of 11:30 CDT Thursday, about 6.42% of natural gas production, or 206.71 MMcf/d, had been shut-in, while 14.55% of the oil production was shut-in, representing about 254,607 b/d.

Personnel by midday already had been evacuated from six production platforms, 0.81% of the 737 manned platforms, BSEE said. However, no people had been evacuated from the 20 non-dynamically positioned (DP) rigs. Rigs working in the GOM include jackup rigs, platform rigs, all submersibles and moored semisubmersibles.

One DP rig had been moved out of Nate’s path as a precaution, representing 5.56% of the 18 in operation. DP rigs, which are not moored to the seafloor, maintain their locations while conducting well operations and may move off location in a relatively short time-frame. People usually remain on-board and return to the drilling location once the storm has passed.

BP plc began evacuating nonessential personnel from the Thunder Horse and Na Kika production platforms in the GOM ahead of Tropical Storm Nate's arrival. Thunder Horse, which sits in more than 6,000 feet of water, has gross production capacity of 200 MMcf/d of natural gas and 250,000 b/d of oil. Na Kika, which BP owns with Royal Dutch Shell plc, is able to produce 425 MMcf/d and 110,000 b/d.

Shell said it also is minimizing staff in the Eastern GOM and securing facilities.

Pipeline operators also were posting critical notices on Thursday.

Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co. LLC (Transco) in an advisory said Nate could “possibly develop into a hurricane over the next few days. Based on the projected path of the storm, flowing supplies of gas into the Transco system are already being impacted. Transco requests that shippers closely coordinate with their suppliers to ensure scheduled nominations match actual flowing supplies.”

Destin Pipeline Co. LLC, which provides natural gas services for the BP platforms and other gas operators, was evacuating the Main Pass 260 (MP260) platform, which is in Mississippi Canyon, according to American Midstream Partners LP.

"Due to the expected offshore weather conditions associated with Tropical Storm Nate in the vicinity of the MP260 platform, Destin plans to evacuate all staff" by Friday, it said in a bulletin board posting. "However, offshore transportation services will continue to be available provided that there is a total throughput of 160 MMcf/d flowing to the Pascagoula Gas Processing Plant (PGP)" onshore in Mississippi. "This represents the minimum gas flow required for PGP to sustain operations." American Midstream, which operates Destin, said it would continue to monitor the weather.

Enbridge Inc., which handles about 43% of total offshore natural gas production and 54% of deepwater gas output from the U.S. GOM, said Thursday it was evacuating nonessential personnel from the Ship Shoal (SS) 207 and SS 332A platforms, part of the Manta Ray Offshore Gathering Co. LLC system. The 250-mile Manta Ray system has capacity of 800 MMcf/d with delivery points to ANR, Nautilus, Transco and Trunkline.