Hurricane Ida is now in the US Gulf of Mexico after crossing Cuba on Friday and was rapidly intensifying on Saturday as it approached the Gulf Coast.

While Ida is the ninth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, it is expected to become the first major hurricane of 2021 to significantly impact oil and gas production and refining operations.

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Hurricane Ida is forecast to strengthen into an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane, with top winds of 140 miles per hour before making landfall along the Louisiana coast on Sunday, according to the US National Hurricane Centre.

As of 1 pm local time on Saturday, the NHC said the hurricane was about 380 miles southeast of Houma, Louisiana. The Category 2 hurricane had clocked maximum sustained winds of 100 mph and is traveling northwest at about 16 mph. Hurricane force winds extended out by up to 30 miles from the eye of the storm, with tropical storm-force winds extending up to 125 miles.

Operators remain shut-in

About 91% of Gulf oil production, around 1.65 million barrels per day, remains shut-in. Meanwhile, about 85% of natural gas production, or about 1.9 billion cubic feet per day, is also offline, according to a daily update from the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

A total of 279 platforms have been evacuated, about half of all platforms in the region.

Producers such as US supermajor Chevron have evacuated all staff from their operated platforms in the Gulf and shut in their facilities, while also shutting in its Empire and Fourchon terminals. ExxonMobil said it was evacuating personnel from the Hoover platform.

BP, BHP and Shell have also evacuated their offshore staff along with shutting in production at their respective facilities. Shell said in an updated posted on Saturday that at its Stones asset, which was earlier shut-in, work was under way to resume partial production.

Refineries shut down

The Gulf Coast is a key region for US petroleum infrastructure, containing more than 45% of total US petroleum refining capacity, as well as 51% of total US natural gas processing plant capacity. Several Gulf Coast refinery operators have started shutdown operations ahead of Hurricane Ida.

ExxonMobil said it was preparing its 520,000 bpd Baton Rouge, Louisiana refinery for severe weather although operations were normal on Friday.

Phillips 66 said it is began shutting its 250,000 bpd Alliance refinery in Belle Chasse, Louisiana on Friday.

Shell also began shutting in its 225,000 bpd refinery in Norco in preparation for the storm’s arrival in anticipation of Hurricane Ida.