Half of U.S. Gulf of Mexico Oil Output Shut In as Hurricane Zeta Nears

Hurricane Zeta enters the Gulf of Mexico after passing over the Yucatan, Oct. 27 (NASA)

Published Oct 27, 2020 9:03 PM by The Maritime Executive

As Hurricane Zeta approaches the U.S. Gulf Coast, offshore oil and gas operators in the Gulf of Mexico have begun drawing down personnel and shutting in wells in preparation for the storm's arrival. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), workers have been evacuated from more than 150 production platforms, about 25 percent of the total in the U.S. GoM. These platforms represent about half of the current oil and gas production from the region, and they will remain offline until after a post-storm assessment. 

In addition, nine out of 16 DP-enabled offshore drilling rigs have been moved off of their work sites and out of the storm's path as a precautionary measure. Three out of 10 non-DP rigs (jackups and moored semi-subs) have been evacuated. 

After crossing the Yucatan peninsula, Zeta has reduced in strength to a powerful tropical storm. As it tracks northwards, it is expected to regain wind speed and return to its previous status as a Category One hurricane before making landfall in the northern Gulf Coast, likely in Louisiana. 

Zeta has been making 12 knots over ground, and it is expected to move quickly over coastal regions once it makes landfall, limiting the amount of time that communities will be exposed to high winds and heavy rain. However, its storm surge may affect a long swath of coastline between the mouth of the Atchafalaya River and Navarre, Florida, with the highest waters along the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Forecasters expect gusts of up to 60 knots in the New Orleans metro area, which is within the storm's current predicted trackline. Mayor LaToya Cantrell has declared a state of emergency in advance of the storm, and voluntary evacuation orders are in effect for areas outside of New Orleans' levee system, including Venetian Isles, Lake Catherine and Irish Bayou. Several towns in nearby Jefferson Parish are under mandatory evacuation orders effective Wednesday morning. 

In anticipation of the storm's arrival, the Captain of the Port for Sector New Orleans is shutting down vessel movement within the port at 0200 hours on Wednesday, with exceptions as permitted. The closure covers segments of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and Lower Mississippi in the vicinity of New Orleans, along with the lower 45 miles of the Atchafalaya River.