US liquefied natural gas giant Cheniere Energy has evacuated and temporarily suspended operations at its Sabine Pass LNG project in Louisiana as Hurricane Laura approaches the US Gulf Coast.
The facility, where five trains are operational and a sixth is under construction, is located in Louisiana's Cameron Parish, in the projected path of the storm.
The parish issued a mandatory evacuation order starting at 1 pm Monday, according to local reports.
"Operating safely and responsibly to protect our employees, surrounding communities, and the environment is our number one priority," a Cheniere spokesperson said.
"During severe weather events like this, our teams and preparedness plans are activated and the proper precautions are taken to protect both employees and operations."
Later Tuesday, the Sempra-led Cameron LNG consortium in Cameron Parish said it had asked all non-essential personnel and contractors to work from home or an alternate location. The facility will run at a reduced rate "with a ride-out team of essential operations personnel," a spokesperson said.
"Cameron LNG’s preparations include provisions for Category 5 Hurricane winds, heavy rains, and storm tides, or flooding. Safety of personnel is foremost, and procedures will institute a 'shelter in place' when winds approach 45 miles per hour".
Headed for coast
On Tuesday morning, Hurricane Laura was in the south-eastern Gulf of Mexico on a west-northwest track at 16 miles (26 kilometres) per hour, according to the US National Hurricane Center (NHC).
On its forecast track, the centre of Laura will move across the south-eastern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday and approach the upper Texas and south-west Louisiana coasts on Wednesday night, according to the NHC.
The storm is expected to strengthen in the coming days and bring high winds and storm surge to the coast.
Southern Louisiana was already soaked on Tuesday morning after Tropical Storm Marco made landfall overnight.
The storm had weakened considerably by the time it came ashore, but still caused heavy flooding.
Other LNG operators secure sites
LNG developers with infrastructure along the Gulf Coast have been carefully watching the storms.
A spokesperson for the Golden Pass LNG project being jointly developed in Texas by ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum said Monday most workers at the construction site had already gone home while a skeleton crew remained to complete storm preparation.
The site is in Port Arthur, Texas, which issued a mandatory evacuation order on Monday night, according to local media.
The Golden Pass LNG spokesperson said the consortium was planning to close the site Tuesday and Wednesday, and possibly on Thursday depending on the impact from Laura.
There will only be emergency "dewatering" crews onsite those days, "as long as it’s safe to do so," the spokesperson added.
Golden Pass LNG has carried out work to secure the site, including clearing barges from the off-loading facility, lowering all of the piling rigs, closing all openings in the levee to ensure full enclosure around the site, and preparing the shoreline protection by adding rock armouring.
Freeport LNG 'actively monitoring' situation
Freeport LNG, which operates a facility on the Texas coast near Houston, said it was actively monitoring the forecast tracks for the storms and has taken steps to secure the site.
The Sempra Energy-led Cameron LNG development in Louisiana was also taking precautions against the storms.
A spokesperson for Venture Global, which is currently building the Calcasieu Pass LNG project in Louisiana, did not respond to a request for comment.
Other onshore facilities shuttered
Motiva Enterprises, Total and Valero Energy have begun cutting operations at their Port Arthur, Texas, refineries, Reuters reported Tuesday citing people familiar with the matter. The three refiners combined process more than 900,000 bpd of oil.
ExxonMobil also reduced production at its 369,000 bpd refinery in Beaumont, Texas, ahead of a possible shutdown on Tuesday, Reuters reported, citing people familiar with the matter. If it closes, it would bring down total shutdowns more than 1.5 million bpd.
Offshore operators shut-in 84% of oil production
US Gulf of Mexico operators have shut in more than 1.5 million barrels of oil per day, or 84.3% of the region's oil production, according to data from the nation's Bureau of Safety & Environmental Enforcement released Tuesday afternoon.
The agency, which formed its estimates based on operator reports, also believes about 1.65 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas, or 60.94% of current production, has been shut in.
Operators including BP, Shell and Chevron said Monday they had already turned off the taps at some of their facilities in the US Gulf and evacuated offshore staff.
Shell said on Monday it had shut in production at eight of its nine US Gulf assets, but by Tuesday said it was considering suspending output at Perdido, the ninth asset.
"All well operations have now been safely secured," Shell said Tuesday morning.