It was deja vu all over again, as Hurricane Rita slowly churned into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico as a Category Two storm after dumping heavy rain in the Florida Keys on Tuesday. The storm is expected to intensify into a Category Three and its center was projected to reach the middle of the production area off Texas sometime Friday. In preparation, energy companies were stepping up offshore evacuations.

Rita, the 17th named storm of this hurricane season, is now forecast to make landfall about 100 miles southwest of Houston, around Matagorda Bay, according to the National Hurricane Center. However, the track could change — as did Katrina’s — and farther north of Matagorda Bay, Houston and Galveston officials were taking no chances.

Galveston, which is almost 900 miles from Key West, began voluntary evacuation of the island town on Tuesday, and mandatory evacuations were ordered for Wednesday, officials said. Except for Houston, schools across much of the coastal area of Texas also are closed for the rest of the week, to allow families to safely leave the region. Houston officials also were planning to move Hurricane Katrina evacuees out of Houston to as far north as Arkansas beginning Tuesday night.

At 5 p.m. EDT Tuesday, the center of Rita was located about 50 miles south-southwest of Key West, and it was moving toward the west at 15 miles per hour. Rita, with winds near 100 mph and higher gusts, was expected to strengthen over the next 24 hours.

Still recovering from Hurricane Katrina, offshore oil and gas production hit the wall on Tuesday as evacuations increased. With reports from 55 producers, the Minerals Management Service (MMS) said shut-in gas production as of midday Tuesday from both Katrina and Rita was 3.482 Bcf/d, or 34.82% of the daily gas production in the Gulf, up slightly from Monday’s shut-in numbers. The cumulative shut-in gas production since Aug. 26 is 120.413 Bcf, or 3.299% of the yearly production of gas in the Gulf, normally 3.65 Tcf.

Shut-in oil production on Tuesday was 877,275 bbl/d, or 58.49% of the daily oil production in the Gulf, which is normally about 1.5 million bbl/d. About 35% of shut-in oil is as a result of onshore infrastructure problems, MMS said. The cumulative shut-in oil production since Aug. 26 is about 26 million bbl, or 4.749 % of the Gulf’s yearly production of oil, which is 547.5 million barrels.

As of midday Tuesday, 16.61% of 819 manned platforms and 11.19% of 134 rigs currently operating in the Gulf offshore were evacuated.

Many energy companies operating offshore in the Gulf are still limping along, with reduced production and reduced workforces, and assessing how many workers had been returned offshore only to be airlifted back was difficult to determine Tuesday. The only energy company to report new shut-ins by midday was Murphy Oil Corp., which said it shut in 34,000 boe/d at its Frontrunner field. However, additional shut-ins were expected as Rita moves west.

ExxonMobil Corp. on Tuesday evacuated 100 offshore workers, but production remained unaffected by the evacuations, according to spokeswoman Susan Reeves. BP plc also evacuated most of its 1,500 offshore workers by Tuesday. Marathon Oil Corp. had evacuated 40 people conducting repair work on three Katrina-damaged platforms, and Kerr-McGee Corp. also evacuated its nonessential staff.

Houston-based Anadarko Petroleum Corp. evacuated 47 nonessential workers from its Marco Polo deepwater platform, but late Tuesday, 15 other workers remained on the rig, and production was continuing at normal levels. Also, Apache Corp.’s Gulf production remained steady on Tuesday ahead of Rita, but 260 nonessential workers had been evacuated.

Transocean planned to evacuate about 500 people from all 10 of its offshore drilling rigs by the end of Tuesday. Three semisubmersible drilling rigs were expected to be completely evacuated after the wells and equipment were secured. A fourth moored rig, the Deepwater Nautilus, is undergoing repairs related to Katrina. Transocean’s remaining six rigs in the Gulf are “dynamically positioned,” which allows them to move using thrusters driven by engines and computer systems, spokesman Guy Cantwell said. Crews on four drillships and two semisubmersible rigs are “taking measures to be able to evade the storm, as needed.”

©Copyright 2005Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news reportmay not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in anyform, without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.