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Bloomberg: Depression Heads for Texas, May Hit as Tropical Storm (Update1)

By Alex Morales and Christian Schmollinger

Aug. 15 (Bloomberg) — A depression in the Gulf of Mexico was forecast to intensify into a tropical storm before hitting the oil and gas region of coastal Texas early tomorrow.

A further threat to U.S. oil and gas production may come from Tropical Storm Dean, a system predicted to intensify into the Atlantic season’s first hurricane before sweeping over the Caribbean’s Lesser Antilles late on Aug. 17. In the Pacific, Hawaii escaped the worst winds of Tropical Storm Flossie as it weakened from hurricane strength and passed south of the islands.

Tropical Depression 5 was 365 miles (587 kilometers) east- southeast of Brownsville, Texas, and moving northwest at about 10 miles per hour, the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory at about 3:30 a.m. Houston time. Sustained winds were 30 mph. Some oil and gas installations off the Texas coast were evacuated as a precaution.

“The winds most likely won’t be strong enough to cause serious damage to oil infrastructure,” Jack Beven, a hurricane specialist at the center in Miami, said today in a telephone interview. “The biggest danger will likely be heavy rainfall.”

The depression is forecast to strengthen into a tropical storm, named Erin, with sustained winds of up to 45 mph before it makes landfall, Beven said. The system may bring up to 8 inches (20 centimeters) of rain to parts of Texas, the center said.

Dean’s Track

Over the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Dean was 1,170 miles east of the Lesser Antilles with sustained winds of 50 mph, and moving west at 18 mph, the center said.

By Aug. 17, the system may have become a Category 1 on the Saffir-Simpson Scale of hurricane intensity, with winds of 74 to 95 mph, Beven said. Two days later, it may strengthen to Category 3, with winds of up to 130 mph, on a predicted track south of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, he said.

Cyclones are designated tropical storms and named when their sustained winds reach 39 mph. They become hurricanes when winds reach 74 mph. Category 5 is the most severe.

Residents of areas from the Gulf of Mexico to the southeastern U.S. should keep an eye on the system, the National Weather Service advised. A tropical storm watch was in place from Freeport, Texas, south to Rio San Fernando, Mexico. A watch means tropical-storm conditions are possible within 36 hours.

Gulf Oil

The Gulf of Mexico accounts for about 27 percent of U.S. oil production and 15 percent of gas output, according to Energy Department figures. Fuel prices rose to a record in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina decimated platforms, pipelines and refineries on the Mississippi and Louisiana coasts.

Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Europe’s biggest oil company, evacuated 188 people from offshore natural gas facilities 75 miles southeast of Corpus Christi, it said in a statement. Shell stopped production of 5 million cubic feet a day from the North Padre Island 975 field.

“We’re closely monitoring the storm activity,” BP Plc spokesman David Nicholas said today in a telephone interview in London. “We currently don’t have operations in the path of the storm but we’re clearly monitoring. There’s no evacuation yet as of yesterday afternoon.”

BP Plc and Shell are the two biggest oil and gas producers in the Gulf. The largest U.S. oil refiner, Valero Energy Corp., is among companies with facilities along the threatened stretch of Texas coastline.

Crude oil for September delivery was up 40 cents at $72.78 a barrel at 11:04 a.m. London time.

Flossie Downgraded

In the Pacific, Hurricane Flossie was downgraded to a tropical storm after brushing the southern tip of Hawaii island. Flossie was centered about 175 miles south-southwest of Hilo, on Hawaii, at 11 p.m. local time yesterday, the Central Pacific Hurricane Center in Honolulu said in an advisory on its Web site. A hurricane watch for Hawaii was canceled, though a tropical storm warning remained in place.

The storm’s sustained winds were 70 mph, after earlier reaching 140 mph and Category 4 status. The system was heading west-northwest at 10 mph.

Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle signed an emergency disaster proclamation two days ago, and Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim declared the island of Hawaii to be in a state of emergency. The governor’s proclamation, which covers the entire state, activates the National Guard and allows state money to be used quickly for hurricane relief efforts.

All schools will remain closed today on Hawaii, according to the Web site of the island’s civil defense agency.

To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Morales in London at [email protected] ; Christian Schmollinger in Singapore at [email protected] .

Last Updated: August 15, 2007 07:22 EDT

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