Output Normal in US Gulf as Some Energy Cos Evacuate Staff

HOUSTON Sep 19, 2007 (Dow Jones Newswires)

At least five major oil companies have begun evacuating non-essential staff due to a tropical disturbance near Florida that could move to the energy producing waters of the Gulf of Mexico, company officials said Wednesday.

BP PLC (BP), Chevron Corp. (CVX), ConocoPhillips (COP) and Marathon Oil Co. (MRO) said they started moving out non-essential personnel Wednesday, while Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSA) completed an evacuation of 700 people that it began Tuesday.

The U.S. Minerals Management Service, which oversees offshore activity in the U.S. Gulf, said production is at normal levels. None of the companies suspended production due to the storm, which some oil companies are referring to as Tropical Disturbance 50.

"ConocoPhillips is monitoring the progress of Tropical Depression 50, which is located off the southeast coast of Florida," the Houston oil giant said in a statement typical of those issued Wednesday by the companies. "As a precaution, ConocoPhillips is in the process of removing non-essential personnel from our Gulf of Mexico offshore operations."

Some other companies, including Devon Energy Corp. (DVN) and ExxonMobil Corp. (XOM), said they were watching the system, but hadn't evacuated workers.

Noble Corp. (NE) is completely evacuating two of its deepwater rigs, the Clyde Boudreaux and Jim Thompson. Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc. (DO) is preparing to evacuate some of its rigs, but has not decided whether to bring its people to shore, said Les Van Dyke, director of investor relations. Transocean will have evacuated approximately 90 non-essential personnel by the end of day (September 19th) from three of its nine mobile offshore drilling rigs in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. Additional evacuations are planned, should the storm threaten operations, including the full evacuation of one of the company's moored semisubmersible rigs, the Transocean Amirante. Combined, the three drillers operate the vast majority of deepwater rigs in the Gulf.

The storm in question, which hasn't been formally named by the U.S.'s National Hurricane Center, is a broad disorganized area of weather sitting outside the eastern Gulf of Mexico, across the state of Florida, according to an agency meteorologist.

"There is some potential for this to become a tropical storm in a couple of days," said Jack Beven, senior hurricane specialist at the NHC in Miami. "If this becomes a storm, it'll be Thursday or Friday."

While the system isn't yet moving, it may move west or northwest toward Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama, the NHC said.

"We don't have a high confidence on how strong it may get," Beven said. "But most of our guidance is saying that it most likely (will) be a tropical storm."

Jim Rouiller, a meteorologist with forecaster Planalytics in Wayne, Pa., said the tropical disturbance will likely become "a minimal hurricane" and have "minimal impact" to the Gulf of Mexico energy production region because it won't intensify too much.

New York Mercantile Exchange gas futures settled 5.91% lower at $6.18 a million British thermal units after forecasters projected the weakening of another tropical wave off the coast of west Africa. Traders said they are watching the development of the tropical disturbance over Florida but don't put any faith in its development.

The front-month October light, sweet crude contract on the Nymex rose 42 cents, or 0.5%, to close at a record $81.93 a barrel. November Brent crude on the ICE Futures exchange rose 70 cents to $78.29, a one-year closing high.

Front-month October reformulated gasoline blendstock, or RBOB, rose 3.47 cents, or 1.7%, to $2.095 a gallon. October heating oil rose 30 points, or 0.1%, to $2.2453 a gallon, a new settlement record for the front-month contract.

Copyright (c) 2007 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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