HOUSTON (Reuters) – Energy companies on Monday began evacuating offshore oil platforms as the 25th named storm of the year formed in the Caribbean and was forecast to move into the Gulf of Mexico and threaten the coast this week, possibly as a major hurricane.
Tropical Storm Delta was expected to strengthen as it crosses the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico midweek and to approach the northern Gulf Coast with up to 105 mile per hour (194 kilometers per hour) winds, the National Hurricane Center said.
If Delta makes a U.S. landfall, it would be the 10th named storm to do so this year, breaking a record that dates to 1916. Delta is the 25th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.
“This could become one of the more impactful storms” this year, said Jim Foerster, chief meteorologist at DTN, an energy, agriculture and weather data provider. “This is going to be a quite concerning storm for Louisiana and points east.”
Delta could become a major hurricane, a category 3 storm on the five step Saffir-Simpson scale, because of its path over warm water and little wind shear aloft, he said.
This year’s named storms so far have cost about $9 billion in insured losses, compared with $75 billion in 2017, according to Andrew Siffert, a vice president at reinsurance brokerage BMS Group. The prior figure included hurricanes Irma, Maria and Harvey.
BP and BHP began evacuating non-essential personnel from their offshore platforms, the companies said. BHP also plans to shut production at its facilities by Wednesday.
Occidental Petroleum OXY.N, the third largest offshore producer by volume, said it was taking steps to protect its people and facilities. Royal Dutch Shell said it was monitoring the storm.Offshore production in U.S. Gulf of Mexico accounts for 17% of total U.S. crude oil production and 5% of total U.S. dry natural gas production.
Delta was forecast to move into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico Tuesday night and begin sweeping across the prime oil-producing region on Wednesday.
The projected storm track has Delta making landfall on the central Gulf Coast later this week. Louisiana Governor John Bell Edwards urged the state’s residents to prepare for the storm.