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Karen Shutters Offshore Natural Gas, Oil Output

October 7, 2013
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Close to 40% of all of the natural gas produced in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico (GOM) had been shut in as of Friday, along with nearly half of the oil produced every day, according to the Department of Interior's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE).

Forty-one offshore operators had submitted status reports to BSEE on their GOM facilities, BSEE noted. There was 1,497 MMcf/d of natural gas that had been shut in, or 39.38% of GOM output. Also shut in were 693,345 b/d of oil, which amounts to almost half (49.52%) of total output.

Also evacuated as of Friday were 185 offshore platforms, which accounts for about one-third of the total, as well as 18 (37.5%) of the drilling rigs. Four dynamically positioned rigs also had been moved off location, which is about 12.5% of the total number.

The intensity forecast for Tropical Storm Karen remained "rather problematic" at the end of the week, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC), which late Friday said the storm was weakening ahead of coming ashore Saturday and into Sunday along the northern edge of the Gulf Coast.

Karen on Friday was located about 275 miles south-southwest of the mouth of the Mississippi River and 365 miles south of New Orleans. However, maximum sustained winds, which had been near 65 mph earlier in the day, were holding at 50 mph. Forecasters in Miami were less sure that the storm would strengthen into a hurricane, but they said it commanded attention nonetheless.

"Our forecast calls for it to be right around the border of a hurricane and a tropical storm," said NHC meteorologist David Zelinsky. The NHC storm track had Karen brushing the southeastern tip of Louisiana before moving east toward the Alabama/Florida coastlines. What concerns forecasters is that Karen is on a similar track to 2012's Hurricane Issac, a weak storm that stalled across the region and caused widespread flooding.

A cold front rolling into Texas late Friday was expected to route Karen farther northeast, away from the Louisiana coast and more toward the Florida Panhandle and coastal Alabama. However, the timing of the cold trough was uncertain.

Karen could interact with the trough into Saturday, "which might provide some support for renewed convection," forecasters said. However, the "shear may diminish in the wake of the trough, which could allow for intensification, especially if Karen turns northeastward while still over water." After landfall, Karen was expected to weaken as it merged with the trough.

Forecasts suggested that the storm would miss the oil import facility at Port Fourchon, LA, as well as refineries that line the Mississippi River. However, offshore operators were taking no chances. Destin Pipeline Co. LLC continued a force majeure put in place Thursday afternoon on its gas system and said it would not provide transportation services from offshore points until further notice. Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co. LLC was continuing to monitor the storm and said it would shut in if necessary.

Producers brought their offshore workforces home and many were shutting in oil and gas. Among others, BP plc shuttered all of its deepwater GOM production, while ExxonMobil Corp. shut in about 100,000 boe/d. Hess Corp. said shut in about 200 MMcf/d of natural gas and 60,000 b/d of oil.

President Obama had directed his team on Thursday to ensure staffing and resources were available to respond, spokesman Jay Carney said. Hundreds of federal workers involved with tracking storms and dealing with their aftermath were furloughed in the federal government shutdown (see related story). However, the NHC remained fully staffed, and the BSEE said it would issue reports as long as they were necessary.

Traffic at the mouth of the Mississippi River had been halted Friday, and the U.S. Coast Guard was imposing a restricted navigation area for boats mooring within the New Orleans area protection system.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency and activated 650 National Guard troops. Grand Isle, LA, Mayor David Camardelle ordered a mandatory evacuation to urge senior citizens with medical conditions to relocate. The island will take on water regardless of wind direction, submerging the only highway out, according to officials.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant also declared states of emergency. Mississippi officials were considering whether to allow high school and college football games to go on as scheduled.

"I know that Friday night football in the South is a big thing, but I don't think anybody wants to risk a life because of potential winds," said Mississippi State Emergency Management Agency Director Robert Latham. 

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