Caribbean Storms May Strengthen in Gulf, Hampering Oil Cleanup
June 23 (Bloomberg) -- The first storm of the Atlantic hurricane season may enter the Gulf of Mexico as soon as next week, possibly disrupting BP Plc’s efforts to clean up the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
A system of thunderstorms in the Caribbean Sea is moving west-northwest toward the Gulf at 10 miles (16 kilometers) per hour, bringing rainfall to parts of the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in its latest update at 8 p.m. local time yesterday.
“Conditions are forecast to become more favorable” for the system to intensify in the next two days as it heads into the western Caribbean Sea, the center said.
The system may strengthen into a tropical storm later this week before heading into the Gulf between Mexico and Cuba, Jim Rouiller, a senior energy meteorologist at Planalytics Inc. in Berwyn, Pennsylvania, said in an e-mail June 21. The storm may represent a “formidable threat” to the spill, he said.
Forecasters are predicting this year’s Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 through Nov. 30, may be among the most active on record and hamper the U.K. oil company’s efforts to plug its leaking well. AccuWeather Inc. forecast at least three storms will move through the region affected by the spill.
A hurricane could stop oil-capture efforts and delay drilling of relief wells by 10 days, U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the government’s national incident commander, said yesterday at a press conference in Washington. Rig crews would need to begin preparing to evacuate three to seven days ahead of the storm, Allen said.
A temporary pipeline may be laid from the leaking well to one or two nearby production platforms when the weather is too rough to use ships, Allen said. A platform may be capable of piping oil ashore or pumping it into a petroleum reservoir.
“We’re exploring that over the next couple of days,” he said. “It would allow us to continue production out of that well without requiring a surface vessel to be there, which is problematic in a hurricane.”
BP is developing a new containment response that will help cleanup operators connect and disconnect oil-recovery systems faster, allowing for shorter disruptions during storms, said John Pack, a BP spokesman in London. Some of the changes will be ready before July, he said.
Active Season Forecast
A record 28 Atlantic storms formed in 2005, according to the National Hurricane Center. They included Katrina, whose 170 mile-an-hour winds toppled production platforms and set oil rigs adrift before slamming into New Orleans.
AccuWeather on June 21 boosted its forecast for the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season to 18 to 21 named storms, up from 16 to 18. There have been five seasons with 18 or more storms in 160 years of record-keeping, AccuWeather said in an e-mailed statement.
The U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration forecast 14 to 23 named storms for this season. Above-normal sea temperatures west of Africa and a decline in the Pacific cooling phenomenon known as El Nino, which helps impede Atlantic hurricane development, are contributing to the storm activity, forecasters say.
Three storms, two of them hurricane-level, may pass through the oil spill area, while three more may come close enough to affect cleanup operations and other rig activity, AccuWeather chief hurricane forecaster Joe Bastardi said.
The track a storm takes will have an impact on what happens to the oil, said Jill Hasling, president of the not-for-profit Weather Research Center in Houston.
A hurricane passing on the eastern side of the spill would blow oil away from the shore, while a storm on the slick’s western side may drive it onto beaches and further inland, she said by telephone.
“We just don’t want a storm right now,” Hasling said.
Atlantic weather systems receive a name when they reach tropical storm status with sustained winds of 39 miles per hour, while hurricanes have a minimum wind speed of 74 miles per hour.
The Gulf is home to about 27 percent of the U.S.’s oil and 15 percent of its natural gas production, the Energy Department says. It also has seven of the 10 busiest U.S. ports, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. Florida is the second-largest producer of oranges after Brazil.
The U.S. has closed 36 percent of federal waters in the Gulf to fishing, equivalent to 86,985 square miles (225,290 square kilometers).
The April explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, leased by BP from Transocean Ltd., killed 11 workers and has caused as much as 60,000 barrels of oil a day to leak into the Gulf. BP has been using chemical dispersants to break down the fuel and is attempting to collect oil from the damaged well.
The company is also drilling two relief shafts to seal the well that may be completed in August.
BP has slumped about 48 percent in London trading since the disaster.
--With assistance from Brian K. Sullivan in Boston, and Jim Polson and Charlotte Porter in New York. Editors: Alex Devine, John Chacko.
By Stuart Biggs and Jeremy van Loon