Gulf of Mexico Oil and Gas Crews Pulled from Path of Tropical Storm

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana, September 2, 2011 (ENS) – The National Hurricane Center is issuing advisories on Hurricane Katia in the Atlantic and Tropical Storm Lee in the Gulf of Mexico, which is expected to produce heavy rain over southern Louisiana, southern Mississippi, and southern Alabama through the weekend.

By the time Tropical Depression 13 became Tropical Storm Lee this morning, oil and gas operators this morning had evacuated personnel from a total of 169 production platforms and 16 oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

Oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico (Photo by Oceana/Soledad Esnaola)

Based on reports from 41 oil and gas companies, officials at the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement, BOEMRE, estimate that 47.6 percent of the current oil production and 33 percent of natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico has been shut-in.

After the storm has passed, facilities will be inspected, said BOEMRE. Production from undamaged facilities will be brought back on line immediately, while damaged facilities will take longer to bring back on line, the agency said.

Tropical Storm Lee is threatening southern Louisiana with high winds and up to 20 inches of rain that has emergency officials and the oil and gas industry racing to secure their areas ahead of the storm.

Rainfall is expected in Louisiana through Tuesday night, including some tropical storm force winds and the potential for tornadoes. Tides could be two to five feet higher than normal.

Following a Unified Command Group meeting with state officials today at Governor Bobby Jindal’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, the governor warned residents to be ready to evacuate.

“All our people should prepare now to ensure you have an evacuation plan in place, plenty of water, non-perishable food items, hygiene supplies, sufficient clothing, and any prescription medications you or your family may need in the event of a storm, said the governor.

“This storm is not expected to become a hurricane at this point,” said Jindal. “The National Weather Service told us that the center of this storm system is very broad, unlike the narrow center you see in a hurricane formation. This is what they call a ‘hybrid system’ with rain and some bands of tropical storm force winds, with squalls spinning out of the center.”

Jindal said the state issued an emergency declaration for the storm system Thursday and 10 parishes have issued their own declarations, including: Terrebonne, Lafourche, Jefferson, St. Charles, Vermilion, St. John, Tangipahoa, Assumption, LaSalle and St. Tammany.

Tropical Storm Lee is spinning in the Gulf of Mexico, while Hurricane Katia is about 600 miles east of the Northern Leeward Islands. (Map courtesy National Hurricane Center)

Lafourche Parish issued a voluntary evacuation for south of the floodgates that began at noon today. Evacuees have the use of the Larose Civic Center.

Grand Isle also called a voluntary evacuation for their residents this morning.

In Jefferson Parish, 25,000 feet of tiger dams owned by the parish are being deployed to Lafitte in preparation for possible flooding there.

Railroad gates and floodgates are being closed across much of southern Louisiana. East Jefferson Levee District reports the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is closing gaps near an airport runway levee.

The governor said the National Hurricane Center told him to expect heavy rainfall. “This storm system is currently parked in the Gulf, meaning we expect it to drop a significant amount of rain totaling 10 to 15 inches in some areas and up to 20 inches in isolated areas,” he said.

“The system is expected to affect South and Southeast Louisiana with the most rainfall, however many areas that are susceptible to backwater flooding are also expected to be impacted by the high rainfall.”

To date, there are no road closures across the state.

To get the latest updates on real-time traffic and road conditions drivers can dial 511 from their phone and say the route or region they need to know about. This information is also online at the 511 Traveler Information website at: www.511la.org.

The Department of Health and Hospitals is monitoring water systems throughout South Louisiana. Warning that the storm could cause sewage treatment systems to fail, DHH is reminding residents not to let children play in floodwaters or ingest them in any way.

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has placed all 225 enforcement agents on stand-by, has 150 vessels ready for response and has prepositioned 25 vessels in preparation for the storm.

Anna Hrybyk of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a grassroots environmental health and justice organization, warns residents that power failure at refineries is common during storms and leads to “excessive inefficient flaring of toxic chemicals into the air” resulting in large flares with black smoke.

“Heavy rains consistently overflow refinery wastewater treatment ponds into neighboring canals, streams, rivers and lakes,” she said.

“In a region with such a high concentration of petrochemical facilities, we need to assume that storms such as this one will produce an accompanying chemical accident and prepare our communities appropriately,” said Hrybyk.

Louisiana refineries have cited storms as the cause of 5.8 million pounds of air pollution and more than 15 million gallons of liquid pollution, more than any other cause of refinery accidents, she said. “Toxic chemicals released during these accidents include 3.3 million gallons of oil, 2.2 million pounds of sulfur dioxide and more than 27,000 pounds of benzene.”

Residents living near refineries can submit their observations, photographs and video to Louisiana Bucket Brigade’s Chemical Accidents Crisis Map via text or online. Report by text to 504-272-7645 or submit a report online at map.labucketbrigade.org.

“Reporting what pollution you see, smell and/or feel during this storm is very important,” Hrybyk said. “Your reports will alert authorities to the problem so they can take steps to protect public health and hold the industry accountable.”

Residents can call in reports of pollution to the National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802. Anyone experiencing health effects from the pollution can call the Louisiana Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

Governor Jindal reminded Louisiana residents that during hurricane season, 47 percent of storms develop in the month of September.

“It is important for people to stay updated throughout the holiday weekend. Pay attention to the weather in your area and also the flash flood warnings from local officials. This storm is a good reminder to everyone that this time of year is still a very busy time for hurricanes and tropical storms.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.