UPDATE 1-Oil workers flee as third storm in month aims for U.S. offshore fields

(Updates with reduced intensity outlook, oil firms monitoring)

HOUSTON, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Royal Dutch Shell Plc halted some oil production and began evacuating workers from a U.S. Gulf of Mexico platform, the company said on Saturday, as a new tropical storm flared.

Beta, the 23rd named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, formed in the Bay of Campeche and was forecast to gradually strengthen and soak the Texas coast all week, the National Hurricane Center said.

The NHC reduced its maximum wind forecast to 75 miles per hour (120 kph), just above tropical storm intensity. Drier air aloft will limit the storm's strength and may prevent it from becoming a hurricane, the NHC said in a Saturday update.

Shell was removing non-essential employees from its Perdido platform in the western Gulf of Mexico and securing nearby drilling rigs, the company said. Occidental Petroleum Corp , which operates in the same area, also began implementing storm procedures, it said.

Hess Corp. and Murphy Oil Corp. were monitoring conditions on Saturday but offshore facilities have not been affected, both said. Chevron Corp has not newly evacuated staff and there was no impact from storm Beta on production at its operated facilities, the company said.

Beta was churning about 245 miles (995 km) south of Lake Charles, Louisiana at 10 a.m. CDT (1500 GMT) and moving 3 miles per hour (6 kph) to the northwest, the NHC said. It issued a hurricane watch for most of the Texas coast and warned of up to 10 inches (25 cm) of rain along the northwest Gulf coast from the slow moving storm.

If Beta reaches hurricane strength, defined as maximum winds greater than 74 mph on the Saffir-Simpson scale, it would be the third Gulf of Mexico hurricane in less than a month. Hurricane Sally slammed into Alabama on Wednesday with winds of up to 105 mph (170 kph) and Laura hit southwest Louisiana with 150 mph winds.

There were 37 platforms on Friday that remained unstaffed, with oil output cut by 396,554 barrels per day and natural gas by 435 million cubic feet per day in the wake of Hurricane Sally.

The U.S. Gulf of Mexico offshore oil production accounts for 17% of U.S. crude oil production and 5% of U.S. natural gas production. (Reporting by Gary McWilliams and Erwin Seba; Editing by William Mallard and Daniel Wallis)

09/19/2020 16:21

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