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Weak Arlene Triggers Some Evacuations, Shut Ins

Although she was expected to follow a path similar to that of her far more terrible predecessor, Ivan, Tropical Storm Arlene on Friday was expected to remain weak, causing little or no lasting impact on the natural gas market or Gulf exploration and production infrastructure.

Nevertheless, that did not calm producers' nerves. Thousands of personnel were evacuated from platforms Thursday and Friday as a precaution. Production also was being shut in although most or all of it was expected back on Sunday or Monday. Analysts estimated that potentially more than 500 MMcf/d of natural gas and 50,000 b/d of oil production was shut in by the end of the day on Friday.

The Minerals Management Service (MMS) said that as of 11 a.m., shut-ins had reached 354 MMcf/d of gas and 25,474 b/d of oil. A total of 36 platforms and 16 rigs were evacuated, according to reports from 11 companies. MMS said the shut in gas production amounted to about 3.3% of total daily Gulf gas production estimated at 10.8 Bcf/d. The shut in oil represented about 1.7% of total daily Gulf crude oil output. There are 819 manned platforms and 140 rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

The following are reports from some of the region's producers as of Friday afternoon:

"It is expected the evacuated personnel will be able to return offshore on Sunday," Shell said. "There are no plans at this time to shut-in any production as a result of the storm. We will continue to monitor the situation and respond to further developments."

El Paso's Southern Natural Gas pipeline system was still picking up the pieces from Ivan last week and said that Arlene's presence will further delay its repairs on the three pipelines that remain out of service. The latest estimated in-service date for the 24-inch diameter Main Pass 289-298 line is June 25. Southern's 12-inch diameter Main Pass 144 lateral is scheduled to return to service on July 3. And its 18-inch diameter Main Pass 306 lateral is estimated to be in service by July 4.

Arlene was expected to become a minimal hurricane prior to making landfall on Saturday morning near the western tip of the Florida panhandle near the Alabama border. The National Hurricane Center said Friday at 5 p.m. EDT that the poorly defined center of Arlene was located about 335 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River and 345 south-southeast of Pensacola, FL. The storm had picked up speed and was moving north at 17 mph. A gradual turn to the north-northwest was expected.

As of 5 p.m., Arlene had maximum sustained winds of 65 mph mainly to the north and east of the center. The large tropical storm was producing heavy rains with accumulation totals expected to reach as much as 12 inches along the central and eastern Gulf Coast states.

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