Storm Debby shifts east, may miss U.S. Gulf oil patch

HOUSTON Sun Jun 24, 2012 8:15pm EDT

HOUSTON (Reuters) - U.S. companies shut in roughly 23 percent of the nation's oil and natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday as a precaution due to Tropical Storm Debby, even as forecasters revamped projections to show the storm could head north and miss the vital offshore energy facilities.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center reported late Sunday afternoon that the storm's expected path toward Florida, away from the U.S. Gulf waters that are home to about 20 percent of U.S. oil and 6 percent of natural gas output.

The latest forecast showed Debby failing to gain hurricane strength moving due north to landfall on Thursday at Port St Joe, Florida. Debby is the first storm of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season forecast to threaten the Gulf.

The latest forecast by the NHC, with successive projections between Friday and Sunday, pointed the storm from due west of its formation near the tip of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula to western Florida.

Late Sunday, Weather Insight, a Thomson Reuters company, said Debby had only a 10 percent chance of striking Gulf production areas, down by 20 percent from earlier in the day.

As of midday on Sunday, 22.7 percent of daily crude oil production, up from 7.8 percent on Saturday, and 22.9 percent of daily natural gas output, up from 8.16 percent, had been shut due to Debby, according to the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which oversees oil and gas activity in the Gulf.

BSEE also said 313,775 barrels per day (bpd) in crude oil production had been shut in as of Sunday. Some 1.03 billion cubic feet per day in natural gas output had been shut energy companies evacuated offshore production platforms.

BP Plc, the largest oil producer in the Gulf of Mexico, had shut in all of its production by Sunday the company said.

The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, the only U.S. port that can receive the largest oil tank ships, stopped operating due to rough seas.

Exxon Mobil Corp, ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell Plc had also shut some of their production as of Sunday.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba; Editing by Maureen Bavdek, Marguerita Choy and Dale Hudson)