The oil and gas industry is facing a new obstacle even as it continues to deal with the sharp depression of oil prices caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Tropical storm Laura, which the U.S. National Hurricane Center upgraded to a hurricane today, is forcing oil and gas companies to suspend operations on the Gulf Coast.
As of August 24, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement says that 281 oil platforms and 6 rigs have been evacuated; 11 dynamically positioned rigs, which are not placed at a fixed point in the ocean, have moved out of the way of the storm. The closed oil platforms represent 43.7% of all platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, while evacuated rigs account for 60% of Gulf rigs.
All told, the Bureau estimates that about 82.4% of all oil production and 56.92% of natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico have been shut off.
Gulf Coast refineries and plants in the area may be susceptible to disruption as well. According to Transport Topics News, Motiva Enterprises LLC, Valero Energy Corp, and Total SE are closing their Port Arthur, Texas refineries in anticipation of the storm.
Hurricane Laura is currently a category 1 hurricane, the weakest category above a tropical storm, but is predicted to reach Category 3 before making landfall by the evening of August 26. According to the National Hurricane Center, the hurricane threatens to flood the coast between the San Luis Pass in Texas to the mouth of the Mississippi River.
In 2017, an Arkema SA plant near Houston was flooded by Hurricane Harvey and subsequently saw fires and explosions due to the storm damage. Hurricane Harvey was a Category 4 storm, though, and dealt more damage than Laura is expected to due to unusual weather patterns that pinned it in place and caused heavy local rainfall.