Energy companies in the Gulf of Mexico stepped up evacuations of workers Friday ahead of the first Atlantic hurricane of 2007, even as most revised forecasts showed the storm missing oil and gas installations.
Hurricane Dean, which is expected to strengthen over the next two days into an extremely dangerous Category 4 storm with winds of 150 mph per hour, is forecast to strike the northeast tip of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula on Tuesday before entering the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said Friday.
Most other models on Friday afternoon showed the storm hitting the Yucatan farther south and then passing into the Mexican portion of the Gulf of Mexico, although one projected that Dean would hit Louisiana.
"We get weather reports several times a day," said Bill Day, a spokesman for Valero Energy the largest oil refiner in the United States. "It's a lot of monitoring at this point and getting prepared. We don't know where it is aiming yet."
The Texas Department of Transportation announced Friday that planned closures of coastal roads and of a large interstate highway in Houston were being cut short to facilitate evacuations.
Many companies said they were waiting for the various hurricane forecasts to fall into line before implementing their storm preparedness plans.
"We will implement any contingency plans probably next week when we get a better handle on Dean's path," said ConocoPhillips spokesman Bill Tanner.
Of more immediate concern for energy companies was offshore oil and gas platforms and mobile drilling rigs in the Gulf, home to a third of U.S. domestic crude oil and 15 percent of natural gas production.
Companies including driller Transocean, Murphy Oil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell said they had already evacuated dozens of people from their offshore facilities.
"We plan more evacuations from a few rigs today and tomorrow," a Transocean spokesman said in an e-mail.
Transocean said that by Saturday it expected to have evacuated all 92 personnel from the Transocean Amirante, currently the most westerly rig in its fleet.
"Approximately 75 personnel were evacuated yesterday with another 200 scheduled to be evacuated today," said Shell, one of the Gulf of Mexico's largest oil and gas producers on its
Shell also announced it had shut down two wells connected to its Brutus platform that together produce 2,000 barrels per day of oil and 2 million cubic feet per day of natural gas.
Tropical Storm Erin had already forced the evacuation of 13 platforms and five drilling rigs in Federal waters as of Thursday, according to the Minerals Management Service, which oversees oil and gas production in Federal waters.
Some 2,600 bpd of oil production and 10.5 million cubic feet per day of gas output were affected by the closures, the MMS said.
Scattered heavy rains, remnants from Tropical Storm Erin, continued to fall across southern Texas on Friday, where the number of weather-related deaths reached at least seven.
In the San Antonio area, four people were confirmed dead while three more remain missing after Thursday's downpour produced as much as 11 inches of rain in 12 hours.
In Houston on Thursday, heavy rains caused a supermarket loading dock roof to collapse, killing two workers. Another man drowned after his 18-wheel truck fell into a drainage pond.