As Tropical Storm Cindy dissipated, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported late Wednesday that Tropical Storm Dennis had reached hurricane status with winds near 80 mph, making it the first hurricane in the Atlantic during the 2005 season. The change was posted based on an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft surveillance mission, which reported the high speed winds as the storm moved over the central Caribbean Sea.

Dennis had been only a little shy of reaching hurricane strength early Tuesday afternoon, with the NHC saying maximum sustained winds were near 70 mph (74 mph is the hurricane threshold). Dennis had slowed its movement to nearly 14 mph since Tuesday afternoon’s pace was reported as about 20 mph. The center of Dennis was about 315 miles east-southeast of Kingston, Jamaica and about 340 miles south-southeast of Guantanamo, Cuba at 5 p.m. EDT, and the storm remained on a west-northwest tracking.

If NHC’s projected path for Dennis holds up, the storm will have crossed over the western end of Cuba and entered the eastern GOM by 8 a.m. Saturday. The expected land passage could sap its strength enough to revert Dennis to tropical storm status, but that likely would be only temporary as Dennis regenerates over the warm waters of the Gulf.

Although Minerals Management Service (MMS) said its count of production outages related to Tropical Storm Cindy had more than doubled since Tuesday, offshore producers and pipelines said flows were being restored Wednesday. Cindy had been reduced to a tropical depression and was expected to continue providing copious amounts of rain to the Southeast through Thursday.

With 21 companies reporting to it by 11:30 a.m. CDT, MMS recorded a total of 753.08 MMcf/d of gas shut-ins Wednesday, along with 190,506 bbl/d of oil. That was up from the 352.76 MMcf/d reported Tuesday. The agency said 85 platforms and 11 drilling rigs had been evacuated. The shut-in gas was equivalent to 7.53% of normal Gulf of Mexico (GOM) production of 10 Bcf/d. The cumulative production loss at the time of Wednesday’s morning report was 1.181 Bcf..

With Cindy’s coming and going through the Central Gulf production area having been about as rapid as Tropical Storm Arlene’s last month, producers turned to the task of returning evacuated workers to platforms and turning the flow valves back on. Meanwhile, they kept wary eyes on the progress of Tropical Storm Dennis, which was expected to be designated as a hurricane while passing south of Jamaica.

No reports of any significant damage from Cindy were circulating, other than power outages that shut down several refineries in southeast Louisiana.

According to Reuters news reports, Murphy Oil had restored 17 MMcf/d of production at two deepwater platforms early Wednesday morning, and Total S.A. expected its shut-in 65,000 boe/d to start returning by Wednesday night. NGI calls to Shell, Unocal and Chevron found that they had “nothing major to report” on shut-ins and expected all offshore personnel to be back at work today.

A spokesman said Transco had supplies cut by about 250 MMcf/d, but it was slowly coming back online Wednesday. “I can’t say that it [lost production] will all return” by the end of the day, but most of it is expected to be flowing again, he said.

“Everything is back on” for Trunkline, a spokesman said. Storm impact was fairly minimal in the first place because Trunkline’s offshore North Terrebonne segment was off to the west of Cindy’s path, he added.

An El Paso Corp. spokesman also said all shut-in volumes had been restored on the company’s two pipes with offshore infrastructure in the storm area, Tennessee and Southern Natural Gas. He said El Paso officials had scheduled an afternoon meeting to discuss strategy on dealing with Dennis.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) downgraded Cindy to a tropical depression Wednesday, saying its maximum sustained winds had subsided to nearly 35 mph. At 4 p.m. CDT Cindy’s center was about 65 miles north-northeast of Mobile, AL and moving northeastward at 15 mph. NHC expected the remnants of Cindy to be in the Long Island area by 7 a.m. Saturday. It said no further Cindy advisories would be posted to its website.

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