Major leaseholders in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), which had evacuated personnel over the weekend as Tropical Storm Debby gained strength, were preparing to redeploy workers Monday as the storm became almost stationary over the northeastern GOM with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph.

BP plc, the largest leaseholder in the GOM, had halted oil and gas production and drilling operations there over the weekend.

"Given the storm's current location in the far northeast corner of the Gulf and forecasts of a slow but steady decline in strength, we will begin today redeploying personnel to certain BP-operated offshore facilities," a BP spokesman said Monday morning. "This process will begin with our westernmost facilities and continue in coming days. Crews will then move to safely resume oil and natural gas production and drilling operations."

Shell said it was also returning its staff to operations across the GOM.

"Because only two nonproducing platforms were fully evacuated, the redeployment efforts will serve to get asset locations back up to full staff complement," Shell said. "Re-start and ramp-up of the minimal subsea production shut-in has also begun [Monday]. By end of day Tuesday, we will be back to normal operations across the Gulf."

Anadarko Petroleum Corp. said it was returning essential workers to its Marco Polo and Constitution platforms in the central GOM and planned to restart production "following comprehensive inspections." Anadarko said it would probably be able to return workers to the Independence Hub and Neptune platforms Monday afternoon.

Chevron said it had evacuated nonessential personnel from some offshore facilities and "some production has been affected."

At 5 p.m. EDT Monday Debby was located in the northeastern GOM about 30 miles south-southest of Apalachicola, FL, with maximum sustained winds of about 45 mph, according to the National Weather Service's National Hurricane Center (NHC). Debby was moving toward the northeast at about 5 mph, NHC said. A tropical storm warning was in effect for the Florida Gulf Coast from Destin to Englewood. Some watches and warnings that had been in effect along the Gulf Coast earlier in the day were discontinued.

"A slow motion toward the northeast or east-northeast is expected during the next couple of days," NHC said. Maximum sustained winds had decreased somewhat in the preceding 12 hours and little change in strength was expected through Wednesday afternoon.

Rain accumulations of six-12 inches across Northern Florida, four-eight inches across central Florida and extreme southeastern Georgia and three-five inches in South Florida and extreme southeastern South Carolina, along with the possibility of isolated totals of as much as 25 inches in northern Florida, were forecast over the next couple of days.

Offshore oil and gas operators evacuated workers from platforms and shut in production on Saturday.

The U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), which oversees oil and gas activity in the Gulf, said Monday that 44.1% of daily oil output and 34.8% of daily natural gas output were shut in. The GOM is supplier of 20% of U.S. oil production and 6% of natural gas output. Personnel from a total of 189 production platforms, equivalent to 31.7% of the 596 manned platforms in the GOM, and from 22 rigs, equivalent to 31.4% of the 70 rigs operating in the GOM, had been evacuated, according to BSEE.

The Atlantic hurricane season, which officially runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, got off to an early start this year with the formation of Tropical Storms Alberto and Beryl in May. The season's third named system, Tropical Storm Chris, formed last Tuesday southeast of the Canadian Maritimes and never threatened the North American mainland. By midday Friday NHC had downgraded Chris to a post-tropical cyclone and the system was located about 335 miles east-southeast of Cape Race, Newfoundland.

The consensus forecast this year has been that the hurricane season is likely to produce fewer tropical storms than seen the last few years (see Daily GPI, June 4).

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