Gulf producers battened down the hatches on hundreds ofplatforms yesterday, shut in more than 2.5 Bcf/d of gas andscrambled ashore as Tropical Storm Earl, which seemed to pop out ofnowhere Monday, rapidly gained strength and appeared likely tobecome the Gulf’s first hurricane by this morning. At 4 p.m.yesterday, the National Weather Service said hurricane warningswere in effect from Pascagoula, MS, to Cameron, LA. Hurricanewatches were in effect from east of Pascagoula to Destin, FL, andwest of Cameron to High Island, TX. Earl was centered near 27degrees north latitude and 93 degrees west longitude, moving northnortheast at 12 mph with 60 mph winds. The NWS said it expectedEarl to become a hurricane prior to landfall.

“Everybody was watching the hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast andthis one just caught them by surprise,” noted Mineral ManagementService spokeswoman Caryl Fagot, who reported Gulf-wide productionshut-ins. MMS said by 11 a.m. yesterday 46 rigs had been evacuated,221 platforms had been shut in, 208,000 b/d of oil had beencurtailed and 1.9 Bcf/d of gas had been shut in. By the afternoon,the Gulf’s major pipeline companies had reported productioncurtailments of at least 2.5 Bcf/d. Several major offshore pipelinesystems, including those operated by ANR and Texas Eastern, wereunable to estimate shut-ins, so the total curtailments probablywere significantly higher. The cuts are expected to continueincreasing today.

Columbia Gulf reported 360 MMcf/d of offshore production and 165MMcf/d of onshore production had been shut in by early afternoonand its Vermilion Block 245 offshore compressor platform had beenevacuated and shut down. “We expect a continued downtrend in supplyavailability until people can return to platforms,” said Columbia’sK. Leonard. “Petroleum International, the helicopter company thatreturns people to shore from platforms, stopped flying [Monday] sonearly everyone, except skeleton crews, has already been evacuated,which means any platforms that can be operated by remote are onautomatic pilot. When the storm gets closer a lot of thoseplatforms will be shut down until people can be flown back outthere to turn them back on.”

KN Energy said curtailments reached 160 MMcf/d on its 1.2 Bcf/dStingray system in the West Cameron area offshore Louisiana, andits 509 compressor station was evacuated and put on bypass untilthe storm came closer. During bypass status, compression is turnedoff, but producers with automated upstream equipment can continueflowing gas through the system. A complete shutdown of thecompressor station would significantly reduce throughput, a KNspokesman said, indicating that was a strong possibility today.

El Paso reported shut-ins were up to 400 MMcf/d on its Bluewatersystem, which feeds both the 500 and 800 pipeline legs.Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line estimated 800-1,000 MMcf/d inproduction losses. ANR said it evacuated its High Island 264 andANR’s Eugene Island 188 compression platforms, which serve its HIOSoffshore pipeline system. Both platforms were put on bypass status.A pipeline spokesman said the company would not know untilWednesday how much volume was affected. Sonat reported 250 MMcf/dof gas was shut-in and another 150 MMcf/d was curtailed on SeaRobin. “We’ve evacuated the Vermilion 149 platform and OlgaCompressor Station in Louisiana’s Mississippi River delta,” said aspokeswoman. Olga is the first onshore station on the Sonatmainline in the Main Pass/Breton Sound area.

Shell said it had evacuated approximately 1,350 employees fromshelf and deepwater structures and shut in 1.42 Bcf of gas and225,000 barrels of oil. Texaco said it was expecting Gulfcurtailments until at least Wednesday afternoon. It has shut inabout 140 MMcf/d gas, 16,000 b/d of oil. “Shut-in production reallyspans the Gulf; it’s Gulf-wide and even into the bays and lakes,”said a Texaco spokesman. “We’re still in the process of movingpeople off rigs and platforms but hope to complete that bynightfall. We will work into night if we have to.” Texacocurtailments could reach 350 MMcf/d. Chevron said by the earlyafternoon its 1 Bcf/d production was still online because of itsautomated system, but as Earl approached it was expecting somecurtailments. Enron Oil & Gas had shut in 188 MMcf/d, andexpected that to increase.

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