U.S. moves to expand offshore wind beyond the Northeast

(Reuters) – The Biden administration on Thursday unveiled fresh steps toward building offshore wind farms in waters off the coasts of Massachusetts, the Carolinas and in the Gulf of Mexico.

The announcement is the government’s latest in an aggressive push to expand the nascent ocean industry to every U.S. coastline in a bid to wean the power sector off fossil fuels and address climate change.

To date, most U.S. development of offshore wind has taken place in the Atlantic Ocean off the coasts of Northeastern states. But the administration is eager to site projects in other areas, including the Southern Atlantic and West coasts.

In a statement, the Department of the Interior said it would propose an offshore wind auction in a 127,865-acre area off the coast of the Carolinas. The area could be divided into three leases and has the potential for enough energy to power more than half a million homes.

The public will be able to comment on the proposal for 60 days. The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a division of Interior, could finalize a sale early next year.

The agency also said it would invite the public to weigh in on the potential for wind energy development in a 30 million-acre area of the Gulf of Mexico. The area stretches from just west of the Mississippi River to the Texas-Mexico border.

The move is an early-stage effort to consider offshore wind in the Gulf, which is home to the nation’s biggest offshore oil and gas drilling industry. Before deciding on whether to lease in the Gulf, BOEM would have to conduct an environmental review and seek input from the public and a government task force set up to consider offshore wind in the region.

Finally, the administration said it would kick off an environmental review for a project off the coast of Massachusetts, Mayflower Wind. The wind farm will have up to 147 turbines with the potential to power 800,000 homes.

Mayflower Wind is a joint venture between Shell New Energies U.S. LLC and Ocean Winds, a joint venture between EDP Renewables and ENGIE.

(Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Oil falls as storm-hit U.S. supply trickles back into market

By Stephanie Kelly

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Oil prices fell on Friday as energy companies in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico restarted production after back-to-back hurricanes in the region shut output.

Both Brent and U.S. crude benchmarks were on track for weekly gains of 3.2% and 3.3%, respectively, owing to the recent supply tightness due to the hurricane outages.

Brent crude futures fell 42 cents to $75.25 a barrel by 12:48 p.m. EDT (1648 GMT). U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell 60 cents to $72.01 a barrel.

Friday’s slump came after five straight sessions of rises for Brent. On Wednesday, Brent hit its highest since late July, and U.S. crude hit its highest since early August.

“The reason oil prices reached such highs in the last few days was clearly supply disruptions and drawdowns in inventories, so now that U.S. oil production is returning, oil as expected trades lower,” said Nishant Bhushan, Rystad Energy’s oil markets analyst.

Gulf Coast crude oil exports are flowing again after hurricanes Nicholas and Ida took out 26 million barrels of offshore production. Restarts continued with about 28% of U.S. Gulf of Mexico crude output offline, Reuters reported on Thursday.

The dollar climbed to a multi-week high on Friday, making dollar-denominated crude more expensive for those using other currencies. The dollar got a boost from better-than-expected U.S. retail sales data on Thursday.

U.S. consumer sentiment steadied in early September after plunging the month before to its lowest level in nearly a decade, but consumers remain worried about inflation, a survey showed on Friday.

(Reporting by Stephanie Kelly in New York; additional reporting by Julia Payne in London, Sonali Paul in Melbourne and Roslan Khasawneh in Singapore; Editing by David Goodman, Louise Heavens and David Gregorio)

Oil companies evacuate workers as storm heads for U.S. Gulf of Mexico

HOUSTON (Reuters) -Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron on Thursday began evacuating non-essential personnel from offshore U.S. Gulf of Mexico platforms ahead of a storm expected to enter the Gulf this weekend.

A storm brewing in the Caribbean Sea could become a major hurricane this weekend and strike the U.S. Gulf Coast by Sunday, the National Hurricane Center said. Hurricanes with winds of up to 111 miles per hour (178 km) are classified as major and can bring devastating damage onshore.

“This storm has the potential for rapid increases in intensity before it comes ashore” because of extremely warm waters off Louisiana, said Jim Foerster, chief meteorologist at DTN, which provides weather information to offshore oil and transportation companies.

Shell said evacuations covered all eight of its Gulf of Mexico properties and a floating production and storage vessel was being moved out of harms way. Chevron said its Gulf of Mexico oil and gas production remained at normal levels.

“Water temperatures are 85 degrees to 88 degrees Fahrenheit (29-31 C), that’s anomalously high, 3 to 5 degrees higher than it normally would be,” said DTN’s Foerster. A projected path over warm waters will result in heavy rains and flooding as it nears the central Gulf Coast, he said.

(Reporting by Gary McWilliams; editing by David Evans and David Gregorio)

Tropical Storm Fred takes aim at Florida with dangerous surges

(Reuters) -Tropical Storm Fred gained momentum on Monday as it barreled toward the Florida Panhandle, closing some schools amid forecasts of “very dangerous” surges of 5 feet (1.5 meters) of water.

By early afternoon, the storm was 50 miles (80 km) south of Apalachicola, Florida, said Robbie Berg, hurricane specialist at the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC).

It was expected to make landfall in the eastern Florida Panhandle area later on Monday.

Winds strengthened to 60 miles per hour (97 kph) but were not expected to reach hurricane levels of 74 miles per hour (119 kph).

“We’re not currently forecasting it to reach hurricane strength. It’s running out of time because we do think it will reach the coast later today,” Berg said.

“We do think we could get storm surge as much as 5 feet (1.5 meters) above ground level, so if you were to stay in those areas, it would be very dangerous,” Berg said.

Additionally, heavy rainfall of up to 12 inches (30 cm) in some isolated spots in Florida was forecast, as well as drenching downpours in southeastern Alabama, Georgia and the western Carolinas, said senior hurricane specialist Richard Tasch.

But after landfall, the storm was expected to weaken quickly, Tasch said.

By midmorning on Monday, the storm was about 80 miles (130 km) southwest of Apalachicola and was moving northward at about 10 miles per hour (16 km per hour), according NHC.

Fred was expected to pick up strength as it tracked through warm Gulf of Mexico waters.

But after landfall, the storm was expected to weaken quickly, Tasch said.

Several school districts in western Florida closed for the day, promising to reopen on Tuesday.

“Buses cannot safely transport students at winds greater than 35 mph and current information indicates that we may experience 35 mph wind gusts beginning around 1 p.m.,” the Santa Rosa County school district said on its website.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Osterman)

Early-season Gulf of Mexico storm trims some U.S. oil production

HOUSTON (Reuters) -The first storm to hit oil-producing regions of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico this year sent workers fleeing offshore oil platforms and cut some production.

A weather disturbance in the central Gulf of Mexico was expected to become a tropical storm on Friday. It was moving north at about 14 miles per hour (22 kmh) and could bring up to 12-inches of rain to the central U.S. Gulf Coast by Saturday, the National Weather Service said.

Equinor ASA on Friday said it had removed staff and shut production at its Titan platform, which is about 65 miles (105 km) off the coast of Louisiana. Chevron and Occidental Petroleum also removed staff and began taking precautions at their offshore oil and gas platforms.

“This is not that unusual to run evacuation flights this early in the season,” said Jason Glynn, director of operations at a Bristow Group offshore crew transport unit in Louisiana. “The last couple of years we’ve always had one softball like this early in the season.”

Chevron removed non-essential staff from three U.S. Gulf of Mexico oil platforms and fully evacuated a fourth that is about 150 miles sought of Louisiana. Output remains at normal levels, a spokesperson said.

“All of our facilities have plans to prepare for weather-related events and are implementing those procedures,” Occidental said on its website. It did not comment on production.

Other major producers including BP, BHP, Royal Dutch Shell and Murphy Oil said they were monitoring weather conditions but production had not been affected.

Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, the region’s only deep water oil export port, was operating normally. Offshore pipeline operator Enbridge also said it was monitoring conditions.

(Reporting by Gary McWilliams; Editing by David Gregorio)

One dead, six rescued and a dozen missing after boat capsizes off Louisiana coast

(Reuters) – One person has died and six others have been rescued after a commercial “lift boat” used to service oil rigs capsized in hurricane force winds several miles south of Port Fourchon on the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. Coast Guard said on Wednesday.

A dozen people were still missing after the 129-foot commercial vessel capsized in rough seas about 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, officials said.

Two Coast Guard cutters, a military helicopter, airplane and a small fleet of volunteer private vessels were involved in the searched operation, said Coast Guard Captain Will Watson.

“Unfortunately one person was recovered deceased on the surface of the water,” he said, adding that the winds were about 80 miles per hour (129 km per hour) to 90 mph at the time of the accident.

Two people were rescued by the Coast Guard and four others were pulled from the waters by people on other vessels, he said.

“My heart and the collective hearts of our team goes out to the families,” Watson said, adding that they are working to find other survivors.

The high winds, with some hail and flooding are expected to continue in southeastern Louisiana, according to the National Weather Service. There is a threat of severe weather to overnight in the region and a flash flood watch is in effect till Thursday morning.

The vessel is owned by Seacor Marine, a Houston, Texas-based transportation company, according to media reports.

A representative for the company was not immediately available for comment.

(Reporting by Aakriti Bhalla in Bengaluru; Additional reporting and writing by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by William Maclean and Mike Harrison)

Boston Dynamics dog robot ‘Spot’ learns new tricks on BP oil rig

(Reuters) – Boston Dynamics’ dog-like robot ‘Spot’ is learning new tricks.

Working on an oil rig operated by BP Plc nearly 190 miles (305 km) offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, the company is programming Spot to read gauges, look for corrosion, map out the facility and even sniff out methane on its Mad Dog rig.

Adam Ballard, BP’s facilities technology manager, said tasks performed by Spot will make the work on the rig safer by reducing the number of people. It also will free up personnel to do other work.

“Several hours a day, several operators will walk the facility; read gauges; listen for noise that doesn’t sound right; look out at the horizon for anomalies, boats that may not be caught on radar; look for sheens,” Ballard said.

“What we’re doing with Spot is really trying to replicate that observation piece,” Ballard said, adding that an operator could then review the information from a central location.

Spot also has an integrated gas sensor that is programmed to shut the robot down if it detects a methane leak.

“We believe a lot of that up-front, remote work preparation can be done with a remotely-controlled robot… being able to pan, tilt, zoom and really understand the entire area in real conditions, real time,” Ballard said.

Boston Dynamics does not release terms of its sales agreements with companies, but the Spot robot model can be purchased for $74,500.

BP hopes in the future to expand Spot’s data gathering capability to augment areas where humans are limited.

“We’ve got multispectral imaging that basically you can see many bands across that spectrum… to be able to see things that the human eye can’t see,” said Ballard.

(Reporting by Catherine Koppel; editing by Diane Craft and Rosalba O’Brien)

Storm-weary U.S. offshore energy firms prep for massive hurricane

By Erwin Seba

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Oil and gas workers withdrew en masse from U.S. offshore production facilities and onshore refineries began preparations on Wednesday as Hurricane Delta was forecast to grow into a powerful storm over the Caribbean on its way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Delta’s winds declined to 105 miles per hour (169 kph) as it tore across Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula early Wednesday. It is expected to enter the Gulf of Mexico and re-intensify into a Category 3 storm, the National Hurricane Center said.

Oil producers had evacuated 57 production facilities in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico by Tuesday and halted 540,000 barrels per day of oil and 232 million cubic feet per day of natural gas production. The region accounts for about 17% of U.S. oil output.

Onshore energy facilities and export ports began securing operations. Royal Dutch Shell Plc was preparing three refineries in Convent, Geismar and Norco, Louisiana, for Delta’s arrival. Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, the sole deep water port on the Gulf of Mexico, halted seaborne exports and imports.

After weakening over the Yucatan, Delta is expected to re-strengthen and grow into a massive storm. A “life-threatening storm surge and strong winds are likely over a large portion of the northwestern and northern Gulf coast,” the NHC said.

Energy prices were mixed. Natural gas futures were up nearly 2% on storm shut-ins and export disruptions. U.S. crude oil and gasoline futures each fell about 3%.

Delta is expected to strike the U.S. Gulf Coast on the weekend as the 10th named storm to make a U.S. landfall this year, eclipsing a record that has held since 1916.

Oil companies have had to evacuate workers repeatedly this year with departures and returns complicated by pandemic related quarantines and virus testing for offshore staff.

Delta’s evacuations were at least the sixth time that some companies have had to remove staff and curtail production since June.

W&T Offshore Inc, one of the smaller Gulf of Mexico producers, estimated the storms cost it 9,000 barrels of oil and gas per day in the latest quarter, more than a fifth of its targeted output.

Phillips 66 said Delta would delay the restart of its Lake Charles refinery, a Louisiana plant shut by August’s Hurricane Laura. A second plant, on the Louisiana coast, has remained closed since a mid-September storm for maintenance.

Shell, the largest Gulf of Mexico offshore oil producer by volume, evacuated staff from nine facilities and Chevron Corp evacuated and shut production on all its Gulf of Mexico platforms. BP Plc, BHP, Occidental Petroleum Corp, and Murphy Oil pulled workers out and halted some production.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba; writing by Gary McWilliams; Editing by Leslie Adler and Marguerita Choy)

Hurricane Delta weakens before landfall near Mexico’s Cancun

By Anthony Esposito

CANCUN, Mexico (Reuters) – Hurricane Delta rapidly lost strength before landfall near top Caribbean getaway Cancun on Wednesday, potentially saving the area’s hotels, condos and Mayan indigenous villages from an onslaught threatened when it was a menacing Category 4 storm.

Delta had weakened to Category 2 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of intensity, with winds of 110 miles per hour (175 km per hour), by the time it hit the coast close to Puerto Morelos, a fishing village popular with tourists.

Cancun scrambled to shutter shops and evacuate tourists from beach hotels on Tuesday as Delta rapidly gathered strength over the warm Caribbean and looked to be one of the strongest hurricanes to threaten Cancun in years.

Even as a weaker storm, Delta’s arrival is a blow to Mexican efforts to revive tourism in the surrounding beach-lined state of Quintana Roo, where the industry has been battered by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I want to go home, this is crazy,” said Dee Harris, a 29-year-old from Michigan who came to Cancun with his partner and had been due to leave before the storm led to the cancellation of their flight. “The vacation was good before this.”

Delta is also disrupting the oil industry, with companies shutting down offshore production platforms and withdrawing workers.

Peak sustained winds of 84 mph (135 km/h) were recorded at a weather station in Cancun, which is about 24 miles (38.5 km) from snorkeling spot Puerto Morelos close to the eye of the storm.

Delta was expected to pass through Quintana Roo in 10-14 hours, state governor Carlos Joaquin said.

“Hopefully, that speed means it won’t do us so much damage,” Joaquin told Mexican radio.

Slow-moving hurricanes often do more destruction than those with faster lateral movement because they have more time to unleash their force on structures.

Delta is expected to lose some wind power over the peninsula before gathering strength again in the Gulf of Mexico.

On Tuesday, residents queued at supermarkets to stock up on provisions in anticipation of disruptions, while the state government readied shelters that need extra space due to coronavirus social-distancing requirements.

Officials ordered the evacuation of Cancun’s hotel zone and other coastal areas, while shop workers boarded up windows.

A hurricane watch was in place from the beach town of Tulum westwards, including Cozumel.

Water levels could rise by up to 9 feet (3 m) over normal tide conditions due to Delta, the NHC said.

The Yucatan peninsula had already taken a hit at the weekend from Hurricane Gamma, a smaller storm that damaged property and forced restaurants and other attractions to close.

(Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

U.S. energy firms tally damages from Hurricane Sally, begin restarts

By Erwin Seba

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Storm-tossed U.S. offshore energy producers and exporters began clearing debris on Thursday from Hurricane Sally and booting up idle Gulf of Mexico operations after hunkering down for five days.

The storm toppled trees, flooded streets and left almost 500,000 homes and businesses in Alabama and Florida without power. Sally became a tropical depression on Thursday, leaving widespread flooding along its path with up to a foot (30 cm) of rain falling in parts of Florida and Georgia.

Crews returned to at least 30 offshore oil and gas platforms. Chevron Corp began restaffing its Blind Faith and Petronius platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, following Murphy Oil Corp.’s restart.

Bristow Group, which transports oil workers from a Galliano, Louisiana, heliport, resumed crew-change flights to facilities in the west and central Gulf of Mexico.

“We are making flights offshore and experiencing a slight increase in outbound passengers,” said heliport manager Lani Moneyhon.

The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, a deep water oil port that handles supertankers, reopened its marine terminal after suspending operations over the weekend.

Sally had shut 508,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil production and 805 million cubic feet of natural gas, more than a quarter of U.S. Gulf of Mexico output, and halted petrochemical exports all along the Gulf Coast.

About 1.1 million bpd of U.S. refining capacity were offline on Wednesday, according to the U.S. Energy Department, including two plants under repair since Hurricane Laura and another halted by weak demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Crude weakened early Thursday with U.S. futures down a fraction and trading below $40 a barrel. Gasoline futures inched higher in early trading, continuing gains this week.

Phillips 66, which shut its 255,600-bpd Alliance, Louisiana, oil refinery ahead of the storm, said it was advancing planned maintenance at the facility and would keep processing halted.

Royal Dutch Shell’s Mobile, Alabama, chemical plant and refinery reported no serious damage from an initial survey, the company said. Chevron said is a Pascagoula, Mississippi, oil refinery operated normally through the storm.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba; Writing by Gary McWilliams; Editing by Peter Cooney and Jonathan Oatis)