While a good portion of the energy interests in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) were evacuated ahead of the arrival of Tropical Depression 10, it appears the industry and the Gulf Coast dodged a bullet this time as the storm was hugging the Florida Panhandle shoreline too tightly to strengthen.

The natural gas futures market, which did not give this storm any credibility all week, was hovering on either side of $6 on Friday morning. The October contract on Friday traded a range from $5.800 to $6.130 before closing at $6.080, up 7.2 cents from Thursday.

Based on data from offshore operator reports submitted as of 11:30 a.m. CDT Friday, the Minerals Management Service (MMS) said 77 production platforms had been evacuated, equivalent to 9.2% of the 834 manned platforms in the GOM. Seventeen rigs had also been evacuated, which is equivalent to 19.1% of the 89 rigs currently operating in the GOM.

From the operators' reports, it is estimated that 2,371 MMcf/d is shut in, or approximately 30.8% of the 7.7 Bcf/d in natural gas production in the GOM, the MMS said. It is also estimated that approximately 814,578 boe/d of crude is shut in, or 62.7% of the 1.3 million b/d of oil production in the Gulf.

According to the National Hurricane Center (NHC), a tropical storm warning is in effect from Apalachicola, FL, westward to the mouth of the Mississippi River. As of 4 p.m. CDT on Friday, the storm was 50 miles southwest of Apalachicola, moving west-northwest at 9 mph with wind speeds near 35 mph. "The depression is expected to become a tropical storm later [Friday or on Saturday]," the NHC said.

According to AccuWeather.com, the storm was centered just off the Florida Panhandle on Friday morning, moving toward the northwest. "With the storm center so close to land, there is no chance that it will strengthen into a hurricane," said John Kocet, a meteorologist with AccuWeather.com. "The storm still could be named, but it will never become a major problem for the Gulf Coast. In summary, this is more or less a nuisance tropical system that will never turn into anything major."

Anadarko, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, Marathon, Murphy, Shell, Total and Transocean were among the producers and drilling service contractors that took workers ashore during the week. Reports on Friday afternoon were that a number of them were hoping to repopulate GOM infrastructure over the next 72 hours.

"Due to the reduced risk from Tropical Disturbance 50, Transocean is taking steps today to send 320 evacuated personnel back to work in the U.S. GOM, a process that is expected to take about two days, should the storm move ashore as expected," Transocean spokesman Guy Cantwell said Friday. "Transocean had approximately 1,200 personnel onboard its nine rigs in the U.S. GOM before the evacuations and now as approximately 880 personnel on board."

Shell also said it was repopulating infrastructure in the Gulf on Friday. "Given the latest forecast, on Friday, Sept. 21, we're beginning to redeploy personnel to facilities in areas not expected to be impacted by the system. As part of re-manning our facilities, we anticipate production ramp-up will begin late today and continue over the next several days."

However, some producers were waiting to see how the storm played out before recommitting personnel. ExxonMobil said Friday morning that it had evacuated approximately 200 employees and contractors from platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and Mobile Bay. The company noted that approximately 23,000 b/d of oil and gas liquids and 200 Mcf/d gas was currently shut in.

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