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Highlights

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Tropical Storm Beta expected to reach hurricane strength

No threat to area refineries yet

Houston —

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The first evacuations and crude oil shut-ins from deepwater platforms began Sept. 18 from the western Gulf of Mexico in advance of Tropical Storm Beta that's coming on the heels of Hurricane Sally in the eastern Gulf.

Beta, which strengthened into a named storm on Sept. 18 and could become a hurricane in two days, is meandering toward the Texas coastline just as oil producers are bringing crews back to platforms and rigs in the eastern Gulf and ramping production back up after Sally targeted Alabama and Florida.

Shell said it initiated some evacuations and shut in production from its most western Gulf platform, Perdido, and will continue to monitor other facilities.

"As a precautionary measure, Shell is evacuating nonessential personnel from Perdido in the western Gulf of Mexico and has shut in production. All rigs in the area are monitoring the weather and securing operations," Shell said in a Sept. 18 statement.

Simultaneously, Shell said it is ramping production back up to normal operations at its Appomattox platform after it was shut in from Sally. Shell also had curtailed volumes at its Olympus, Mars and Ursa facilities.

As of Sept. 18, crude producers had still shut in 396,554 b/d of crude and 435 MMcf/d of gas output, 21.44% and 16.05% of total offshore US Gulf output, respectively, from Sally. The amount of Gulf oil and gas offline peaked at about 30% during the hurricane. A total of 37 platforms and rigs were still evacuated as of Sept. 18, down from more than 150 facilities in advance of the storm, according to the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

A Murphy Oil spokeswoman said the firm is monitoring Beta, which became the first Gulf storm to utilize the Greek alphabet since 2005 now that all of the traditional calendar names are depleted from the busy Atlantic storm season. Subtropical storm Alpha formed earlier Sept. 18 off the coast of Portugal.

Murphy noted "substantial uncertainty around its development and path" at this time. "We'll be monitoring the situation in the coming days," Murphy said in an email response.

As for Sally, Murphy said all of its evacuated facilities "have been re-manned and production is ramping back up."

Beginning on Sept. 16, Chevron had redeployed personnel to restore production at its Blind Faith and Petronius platforms that were shut-in for Sally.

BP said its Na Kika and Thunderhorse platforms have been re-staffed following Sally and that it is monitoring Beta.

Even with the hurricane's big impact, Sally did not affect oil operations as heavily as Hurricane Laura did at the end of August. Laura managed to shutter nearly 85% of Gulf oil production -- more than 1.5 million b/d -- and 2.3 million b/d of refining capacity.

REFINERIES STILL DOWN

According to the National Hurricane Center, Beta so far does not appear to be threatening area refineries.

But the Port of Corpus Christi said it is preparing for tropical-force winds.

Close to 1 million b/d of crude refining capacity is currently offline in Louisiana following recent storms.

Phillips 66's 255,600 b/d Alliance refinery in Belle Chasse, Louisiana, was shut in advance of Sally. And, although the storm missed almost all of southeastern Louisiana, Phillips 66 said the Alliance refinery will remain closed for for maintenance originally scheduled for October.

Two major refineries -- Phillips 66's and Citgo Petroleum's Lake Charles refineries in southwestern Louisiana -- still remain shuttered after sustaining damage and the loss of power from Laura.

Phillips 66 spokeswoman Melissa Ory said the company's 260,000 b/d Lake Charles refinery, which was shut ahead of Laura, could start up in two weeks after it has reliable electricity and operate while repairs are being made, which are expected to take several months. Electricity provider Entergy, which is rebuilding the destroyed transmission lines to the refinery and other facilities, said it hopes to restore power by the end of September.