Well shut-ins typically last a few days or weeks at most, but oil companies have adopted stringent virus precautions for refinery and offshore staff, including frequent health checks, travel restrictions, onsite protective gear, and longer work stints with pre-departure quarantines.
More time-consuming evacuations and slower restarts could lengthen post-storm recoveries, and potentially deliver a knockout blow to small offshore facilities, said William Turner, a vice president at research and consultancy Welligence Energy Analytics.
U.S. energy companies face their first test of hurricane restarts under COVID-19 this week from the approaching Tropical Storm Cristobal. Three have already evacuated workers and shut some production.
National Hurricane Center forecasters expect up to 19 named Atlantic storms this year with three to six becoming major hurricanes, above the average 12 storms and three major hurricanes.
Gulf Coast refineries and seaports account for 45% of U.S. oil processing capacity and the majority of energy exports. Some 1.93 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil, or 15% of the U.S. total, also comes from U.S. Gulf of Mexico waters.
COVID-19 already has raised costs and added travel headaches for offshore crews and complicated working conditions for refinery operators. Royal Dutch Shell hired helicopters to individually ferry out three workers on the same platform suspected of having the virus to isolate them from one another, said a Shell spokeswoman