* BP shutting Thunder Horse, world's largest offshore platform
* Storm could threaten most energy-heavy part of the Gulf of Mexico
* Shell evacuating some workers from east central Gulf operations
By Kristen Hays
HOUSTON, Aug 24 Oil and gas producers in the Gulf of Mexico
started preparing for Tropical Storm Isaac on Friday as its track looked to
skirt the heart of the U.S. offshore energy producing zone.
London-based BP Plc, the biggest U.S. Gulf producer, said it would
shut down its giant Thunder Horse platform, the world's largest.
Royal Dutch Shell and Apache Corp said they would evacuate
some workers from their Gulf platforms with no production impacts. Other
offshore drillers were likely to shut production in coming days as the storm
Isaac is on a path that will take it over Haiti and Cuba before entering the
Gulf of Mexico late on Sunday or early Monday as a tropical storm. Isaac is
expected to strengthen into a weak Category One hurricane by Tuesday before
plowing into the west Florida Panhandle on Wednesday, according to the U.S.
National Hurricane Center.
If Isaac stays on the track projected by U.S. forecasters, it will skirt the
eastern edge of the U.S. offshore production area, which accounts for 23 percent
of U.S. oil and 7 percent of its natural gas output.
However, oil traders said that a westward shift in Isaac's track could bring
it into the heart of the offshore oil patch and spur significant supply
A westward shift makes precautionary production shutdowns more likely and
could also affect refining and other energy infrastructure along the U.S. Gulf
Coast, J.P. Morgan said in a note on Friday.
Forecasters at Weather Insight, an arm of Thomson Reuters, still give the
storm a 50 percent chance of entering the heart of the oil and gas producing
Thunder Horse is in the Mississippi Canyon area of the Gulf straight south
of Louisiana. That area, along with Green Canyon to its southwest, are home to
the bulk of the basin's energy infrastructure.
"We have begun evacuating all workers from our Thunder Horse platform in the
eastern Gulf and will temporarily suspend oil and natural gas production there,"
BP said in a statement.
BP's Thunder Horse is designed to produce up to 250,000 barrels per day of
oil and 200 million cubic feet per day of natural gas.
BP, the largest oil producer in the Gulf that operates seven oil and gas
platforms, also was evacuating non-essential workers from three installations in
the Mississippi Canyon area -- Na Kika, Horn Mountain and Marlin.
Na Kika can produce up to 130,000 bpd of oil and 500 mmcf per day of gas.
Horn Mountain and Marlin, which are among smaller Gulf assets BP is seeking to
sell to focus on larger fields like Thunder Horse and Na Kika, can produce,
respectively, up to 65,000 bpd oil and 68 mmcf per day of gas, and 60,000 bpd
oil and 250 mmcf per day of gas.
Non-essential workers are those not directly involved in oil and gas output,
such as cooks and cleaning staff.
Royal Dutch Shell, the third-largest oil producer in the basin behind BP and
Chevron Corp, said on Friday it was preparing to evacuate non-essential
workers from its platforms in the eastern-central part of the Gulf. While the
company suspended drilling operations at some of its assets in those areas, no
production had been shut down, the company said.
Apache Corp was also evacuating non-essential workers from its
east-central Gulf operations in shallow waters, as was Murphy Oil Corp
from its three oil and gas platforms. Production remained normal for both
Shell did not specify which platforms were being partially evacuated, but
the company has three installations in the Mississippi Canyon area.
Those are Mars, with capacity to produce up to 160,000 bpd of oil and 121
mmcf of gas per day; Ursa, with 150,000 bpd oil and 400 mmcf gas per day
capacity; and Brutus, with 100,000 bpd oil and 150 mmcf gas per day.
Williams Cos, which operates pipelines that deliver oil and gas from
Chevron Corp's Blind Faith platform and ENI's Devil's Tower
platform, said on Friday that those facilities were expected to be evacuated and
shut Sunday or Monday. Williams said they were being secured on Friday.
Chevron said on Friday it was evacuating some non-essential workers from
"some offshore facilities," but did not specify which ones.
Blind Faith can produce up to 65,000 bpd of oil and 55 mmcf per day of gas,
while Devil's Tower can produce up to 60,000 bpd of oil and 110 mmcf per day of
Other companies, including BHP Billiton, said they were monitoring
the storm. Operations were normal on Friday at the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port,
the only U.S. port capable of offloading foreign crude from giant tankers.