As hurricane season begins in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, forecasters are predicting higher-than-usual activity that could disrupt oil and gas production in the Gulf and hinder efforts to clean up the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration said Tuesday that forecast hurricane activity could reduce Gulf oil production by 26 million barrels and natural gas production by 166 billion cubic feet. This compares with the median reduction of 5.8 million barrels of oil and 39.5 billion cubic feet of gas in a typical hurricane season.
The EIA forecasts are based on the latest predictions of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for an above-average hurricane season. The agency in May forecast that there would be 14 to 23 named storms in the Atlantic Basin, with 8 to 14 of them turning into hurricanes (winds of 74 miles per hour or more), and 3 to 7 reaching category 3 (111-130 mph) or higher – which is considered a major hurricane.
In the period 1950 to 2009, a typical hurricane season had 10 named storms, with 6 of them reaching hurricane status, and 2.4 registering as category 3 or higher.
The biggest hurricane impact came in 2005, when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita reduced oil production by 103 million barrels and natural gas output by 610 billion cubic feet.
Meanwhile, forecasters at Colorado State University warned that the above-average hurricane season could interfere with efforts to clean up the Gulf oil spill.
CSU’s lead forecaster, Phil Klotzbach, said that if the season follows the forecast, hurricanes could wash more of the oil ashore.
“If the storm tracks to the west of the oil, there is the potential that the counter-clockwise circulation of the hurricane could drive some of the oil further towards the U.S. Gulf Coast,” the expert said.
CSU raised its hurricane forecast for this season due to tropical Atlantic surface temperatures much warmer than usual and cooling tropical Pacific conditions. The forecasters now predict 18 named storms, compared with 15 in their April forecast, including 10 hurricanes instead of 8. They now expect five hurricanes to reach category 3 force, compared with four in the April forecast.
The probability of a major hurricane hitting the U.S. coast was estimated at 76%, Klotzback said, compared with the long-term average of 52%.
By. Darrell Delamaide