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(Reuters) – An intensifying tropical storm in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico on Thursday cut more than half the region’s oil output, with energy companies evacuating staff from nearly 200 offshore facilities and a coastal refinery.
Oil firms shut more than 1 million barrels per day of oil production, 53% of Gulf of Mexico’s output, and 1.2 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas production, according to a U.S. regulator.
Tropical Storm Barry, which was forecast to bring flooding and potentially become a hurricane this week, intensified on Thursday on a path through the north central Gulf of Mexico, a major oil-producing region.
Despite the production cutbacks, U.S. crude, natural gas and gasoline futures slipped Thursday after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries forecast weaker demand for its output next year.
Dozens of oil and gas producers have removed staff from 191 production platforms, according to offshore regulator U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. It said seven rigs and 11 drill ships were evacuated or moved out of the path of Tropical Storm Barry.
Phillips 66 evacuated staff and halted operations at its 253,600-barrel-per-day Alliance, Louisiana, refinery and pipeline operator Enbridge Inc evacuated staff from offshore platforms and halted some deepwater Gulf of Mexico natural gas pipelines.
The storm prompted Anadarko Petroleum Corp., Chevron Corp., Royal Dutch Shell PLC and others to move staff out of the path of the storm and many halted production, according to company reports.
The storm's path puts a weekend landfall near two of the nation’s four operating liquefied natural gas export terminals, Cheniere Energy Inc.'s Sabine Pass and Sempra Energy's Cameron plants.
On Thursday afternoon, the storm was about 90 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River, moving west at about 5 miles per hour. It could make landfall on Saturday on the Louisiana coast and bring up to 15 inches of rain to the central Gulf Coast, forecasters said.
Barry could become a Category 1 hurricane with winds of at least 74 mph and drive ocean water up the Mississippi, forecasters said. The storm surge is projected to bring 3 feet to 6 feet to shore, worsening flooding from heavy rains, according to the National Weather Service.