U.S. energy companies on Thursday began airlifting workers off oil production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and moving ships away from the path of what could become a devastating hurricane by the weekend.
A storm is brewing in the Caribbean Sea and is forecast to cross the Gulf’s main oil-producing region this week. It could become a major hurricane before making landfall on the central Gulf Coast, according to the National Hurricane Center. Hurricanes with winds up to 111 miles (178 km) per hour are classified as major and can cause devastating damage on land.
BHP, Chevron, Equinor and Royal Dutch Shell have begun removing workers from their offshore facilities, spokesmen said. BHP, Shell and Chevron are starting with non-essential personnel, while Equinor said it is preparing to remove workers from its Titan platform.
BHP intends to completely evacuate its Shenzi production platform and shut down production by Friday. Chevron said its production remained at normal levels on Thursday.
Offshore wells in the Gulf of Mexico account for 17% of U.S. crude oil production and 5% of its dry natural gas production. More than 45% of total U.S. refining capacity is located on the Gulf Coast.
The preparations come nearly four years after the Gulf Coast was hit by Hurricane Harvey, which dumped several feet of rain in parts of Texas.
“This storm has the potential to rapidly increase in intensity before it makes landfall” because of extremely warm waters off Louisiana, said Jim Foerster, chief meteorologist for DTN, which provides weather advice to oil and transportation companies.
“Water temperatures are 29 to 31 degrees Celsius (85 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit), which is abnormally high, 3 to 5 degrees above normal,” DTN’s Foerster said. Its predicted track over warm waters will bring heavy rainfall that will cause flooding on land as it approaches the Gulf Coast, he said.