HOUSTON, Oct 28 (Reuters) - Energy firms shut two-thirds of
offshore U.S. Gulf of Mexico oil production, turned off undersea
pipelines and evacuated workers as Hurricane Zeta raced toward a
strike on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Zeta intensified to a Category 2 hurricane on the
Saffir-Simpson scale at midday on Wednesday. It was churning
toward the coast at 20 miles (35 km) per hour, and was forecast
to crash into Louisiana later in the day with maximum sustained
winds of up to 100 miles per hour (155 kph), the U.S. National
Hurricane Service said.
Energy producers had halted two-thirds of the offshore
region's oil production and 45% of its natural gas output. The
shut-ins removed 1.23 million barrels of oil per day and 1.20
billion cubic feet of natural gas, data from the U.S. offshore
energy regulator showed.
BP Plc, Chevron Corp, Royal Dutch Shell Plc
and Murphy Oil Corp were among the major oil
producers that had evacuated workers from 157 offshore
facilities. Occidental Petroleum Corp, the third-largest
offshore Gulf of Mexico producer, said it was implementing storm
Ports along the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge,
Louisiana, to the Gulf of Mexico, and from Gulfport,
Mississippi, east to Pensacola, Florida, were closed by the U.S.
Coast Guard to vessel traffic.
Repeated storm shutdowns this year have been costly for oil
and gas producers and processors. Some were pulling staff for at
least the sixth time since June and having to exit under
COVID-19 pandemic precautions.
Zeta is the 11th named storm of the year to make a U.S.
landfall and will be the seventh named storm this year to affect
energy producers along the Gulf Coast.
The millions of barrels of oil production lost from the
storms have not boosted oil prices. U.S. oil futures were
off 5% on Wednesday as energy demand has been crushed by the
pandemic and crude oil supplies in storage risen.
Gulf Coast refiners that had not already halted operations,
including PBF Energy's Chalmette, Louisiana, were
planning to run through the storm, people familiar with plant
operations said. Chalmette is on the storm's forecast track.
An onshore gas processing plant removed its workers on
Tuesday, and two Louisiana oil-processing facilities have been
idled since storms earlier this year.
(Reporting by Erwin Seba; writing by Gary McWilliams
Editing by Marguerita Choy)