U.S. Gulf Coast energy complex braces for another storm strike

HOUSTON, Oct 28 (Reuters) - Energy firms shut nearly half the offshore U.S. Gulf of Mexico oil production, turned off undersea pipelines and evacuated workers as Hurricane Zeta steamed on Wednesday toward the oil and refining complex along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Zeta accelerated and intensified early Wednesday and was forecast to crash into Louisiana later in the day as a "significant hurricane" with winds of up to 90 miles per hour (150 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Service said.

Energy producers had shut about half the offshore region's oil and natural gas output, or 914,811 barrels of oil and 1.5 billion cubic feet of gas, the U.S. offshore energy regulator said.

BP Plc, Chevron Corp, Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Murphy Oil Corp were among the major oil producers that had evacuated workers from 157 offshore facilities. Occidental Petroleum Corp, the third-largest offshore Gulf of Mexico producer, said it was implementing storm procedures.

Ports along the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to the Gulf of Mexico, and from Gulfport, Mississippi, east to Pensacola, Florida, were closed by the U.S. Coast Guard to vessel traffic.

Repeated storm shutdowns this year have been costly for oil and gas producers and processors. Some were pulling staff for at least the sixth time since June and having to exit under COVID-19 pandemic precautions.

Zeta is the 11th named storm of the year to make a U.S. landfall and will be the seventh named storm this year to affect energy producers along the Gulf Coast.

The loss of millions of barrels of oil production lost from the storms have not impacted markets. U.S. oil futures were off 5% on Wednesday as energy demand has been crushed by the pandemic and crude oil supplies in storage risen.

Gulf Coast refiners, which had not already halted operations, were planning to run through the storm, people familiar with plant operations said. An onshore gas processing plant removed its workers on Tuesday, and two Louisiana oil-processing facilities have been idled since storms earlier this year.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba; writing by Gary McWilliams Editing by Marguerita Choy)