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GOM Operators, Utilities Prep as Hurricane Michael Heads for Florida Panhandle

A timely reminder that the Atlantic hurricane season isn’t over, Hurricane Michael was charting a course for the northwest Florida coast Monday, forcing utilities and offshore Gulf of Mexico (GOM) operators to take precautions, though the storm was projected to have limited natural gas market impacts.

As of 5 p.m. ET Monday, Michael, rated a Category 1 hurricane, was located about 30 miles northwest of the western tip of Cuba and traveling north at about 9 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC). The storm was carrying maximum sustained winds of 80 mph.

“A northward to north-northwestward motion at a slightly faster forward speed is expected through Tuesday night, followed by a northeastward motion on Wednesday and Thursday,” NHC said. “On the forecast track, the center of Michael will move into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico Monday evening, then move across the eastern Gulf of Mexico Tuesday and Tuesday night.

“The center of Michael is expected to move inland over the Florida Panhandle or Florida Big Bend area on Wednesday, and then move northeastward across the southeastern United States Wednesday night and Thursday.”

Several major producers, including BP plc, Chevron Corp., ExxonMobil Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell plc, were monitoring the storm and, in some cases, taking precautionary measures.

BP said Monday that it was in the process of evacuating personnel and shutting in production from four operated platforms in the GOM -- Atlantis, Mad Dog, Na Kika and Thunder Horse -- and that drilling rigs were also bracing for the storm.

ExxonMobil spokeswoman Julie King said the company was evacuating its personnel from the Lena platform in the GOM, located about 110 miles southeast of New Orleans, and will have minimal staff at its Mobile Bay operations. She said there were no current impacts to production.

"ExxonMobil is closely monitoring the hurricane and determining which of our facilities may potentially be in the path of the storm to prepare for severe weather at offshore and coastal operations in the GOM," King told NGI on Monday.

Shell spokeswoman Kimberly Windon said the company was actively monitoring the storm and has secured some drilling operations. "The storm is currently projected to pass to the east of our assets," Windon said. "No evacuations are planned at this time and our assets remain operational."

Meanwhile, Chevron spokesman Braden Reddall said the 330,000 b/d refinery at Pascagoula, MS, "is following hurricane procedures and paying close attention to the track and forecast of Hurricane Michael. We cannot speculate on any possible impact to operations."

According to reports, Norway's Equinor ASA evacuated workers from its Titan platform in the GOM, while Anadarko Petroleum Corp. was monitoring the storm and would evacuate its personnel as necessary.

Analysts with Genscape Inc. said Monday that Michael appeared to be a “relatively compact system” that, based on the forecast track, might avoid both producing areas and larger natural gas demand markets.

“At this time, the storm looks to be mostly a demand-side event,” Genscape analysts Rick Margolin and Allison Hurley told clients. “The storm track suggests it may miss offshore Gulf of Mexico producing areas.”

The analysts pointed to a storm-related notice from Destin, but said the operator had no plans to evacuate its MP260 platform.

“The currently-predicted storm path suggests demand-destruction resulting from this event may be somewhat limited given it is trending towards the less densely populated, lower power load areas of Florida and Georgia,” Margolin and Hurley said.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Monday asked President Trump to declare a pre-landfall emergency to provide federal resources and assistance to prepare for Michael, set to make impact a little more than a year after Hurricane Irma knocked out power for millions across the Sunshine State.

A Duke Energy spokeswoman said the utility’s meteorologists were monitoring Hurricane Michael.

“We are prepared to respond if severe weather situations occur,” the spokeswoman told NGI. “Line technicians, service crews and other personnel are available throughout our service area and are ready to respond to outages and emergencies, if they occur.”

Gulf Power was also monitoring and preparing for the storm Monday and urged customers to do the same.

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