Natural gas pipelines on Destin Pipeline Co.’s system operated by BP Pipelines in the central and eastern Gulf of Mexico (GOM) were in phase 2 of their severe weather contingency plan with all nonessential personnel preparing for evacuation in preparation for what could be the first real tropical storm threat to U.S. energy interests this year, Destin said Wednesday.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) said showers and thunderstorms associated with an area of low pressure over the northwestern Caribbean Sea became better organized Wednesday, “and the system has the potential to develop into a tropical depression at any time during the next day or two.” The low, which NHC said had a 70% chance of becoming a tropical cyclone, was expected to move over the northeastern portion of the Yucatan peninsula late Wednesday and into the southern GOM by Thursday.

“After that, strong upper-level winds are likely to limit development as the system approaches the northern Gulf of Mexico by the weekend,” NHC said.

Destin’s pipeline system, which is owned by BP plc affiliate Amoco Destin Pipeline Co. (67%) and Enbridge Offshore (33%), has a 1.2 Bcf/d capacity. It extends 255 miles from Viosca Knoll Block 900 to Main Pass Block 260, then north to a processing plant operated by BP-Amoco at Pascagoula, MS, and on to interconnections with nine major interstate gas pipelines.

“Destin and Okeanos Pipelines will continue to accept flow as long as weather conditions permit,” Destin said.

NHC on Wednesday was also tracking Tropical Storm Jerry, the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season’s 10th named storm, which was nearly stationary about 1,275 miles east of Bermuda. The storm was expected to move east-northeast over the next few days and weaken as it approaches Portugal.

This year’s hurricane season, which many forecasters had expected to be an active one, has so far been relatively quiet, and those same forecasters have slashed their pre-season storm predictions (see Daily GPI, Sept. 27; Aug. 9). The season began on June 1 and ends Nov. 30.

Increased natural gas production from U.S. shale plays in recent years has lessened the potential impact of Gulf hurricanes on prices and supply (seeDaily GPI, Sept. 18).