Nate threatens US Gulf energy sites

Hurricane Nate is heading towards refineries, offshore oil platforms and other energy facilities in the central US Gulf Coast that largely were spared by Hurricane Harvey’s wrath nearly six weeks ago.

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The fast-moving storm has curtailed 92 per cent of daily oil production and 77 per cent of daily natural gas output in the US Gulf of Mexico, more than three times the amount affected by Harvey, which packed more of a punch when it hit the Texas coast.

Nate could become a Category 2 storm, the second weakest on a five-category scale used by meteorologists, with winds of up to 177km/h before landfall later on Saturday, the National Hurricane Centrr said.

Its track takes it closer to offshore production unlike Harvey, whose impact was greatest on refining centres.

Output shut in by Nate on Saturday amounted to 1.61 million barrels of oil per day and 2.48 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day, according to the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE).

The Gulf of Mexico is home to about 17 per cent of daily US crude output and five per cent of daily natural gas output, according to US government estimates. Workers had been evacuated from 301 platforms and 13 rigs as of Saturday, the BSEE said.

Colby Goatley, a meteorologist at Weather Decision Technologies Inc, said his firm is helping about 10 drilling rig operators chart a course away from Nate, which is producing up to 9.1-metre waves near its centre, he said.

Nate is converging on refineries that remained in operation during Harvey, with Phillips 66’s Alliance plant, Valero Energy Corp’s Meraux facility, and PBF Energy’s Chalmette refinery closest to its current track. Chevron Corp’s Pascagoula, Miss., plant also is within the impact zone.

Harvey, which brought intense rains that flooded the Texas Gulf Coast, shut nearly a quarter of US refining capacity and a similar amount of Gulf of Mexico oil production. At least one of the Harvey-affected refineries is still working to resume full production.