By Brian K. Sullivan
(Bloomberg) — A tropical storm may loom in the Gulf of Mexico late Wednesday or early on July 11 as a low-pressure system moves off Georgia into warm waters, gaining strength and threatening offshore oil and natural gas production.
The patch of low pressure currently over Georgia has an 80% chance of developing into at least a tropical depression and potentially a storm named Barry within the next few days, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Regardless of how strong its winds get, the system will bring heavy rain across the Gulf states.
“If it hits tropical-storm intensity, it will be by the end of the week,” said Adam Douty, a meteorologist at AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania. “The main impact will be farther west into Louisiana and eastern Texas. It could be going right across the main production area” for oil and gas, he said.
In the face of a tropical storm, energy companies in the Gulf often will shut-in production and evacuate non-essential personnel. The Gulf offshore region accounts for 17% of U.S. crude oil output and 5% of dry natural gas, according to the Energy Information Administration. More than 45% of U.S. refining capacity and 51% of gas processing is along the Gulf coast.
If the system’s wind reaches 39 miles an hour, it will become the second tropical storm of the year in the Atlantic Ocean. The six-month storm season started on June 1 and ends Nov. 30.
In addition to the wind threat, the storm may drop as much as 7 inches of rain across a wide area of eastern Texas, including flood-prone Houston, and southern Louisiana in the next seven days, according to the U.S. Weather Prediction Center in College Park, MD.
Before the storm develops, scorching temperatures will grip much of the South from Texas to Alabama, potentially boosting energy demand through the region. Readings may approach the upper 90s Fahrenheit with conditions feeling even hotter through Wednesday, the National Weather Service said.