Tropical storm Alex was expected to strengthen into a hurricane yesterday, delaying BP's efforts to increase siphoning capacity at the gushing oil well in the Gulf of Mexico where some companies have evacuated workers.
Alex was forecast to move slowly away from the Yucatan Peninsula over southern Gulf waters and curl north-west away from major oil facilities to make a second landfall in northern Mexico mid-week.
It is not expected to damage oil capture systems at the BP oil spill or the company's plans to drill a pair of relief wells intended to plug the leak by August, a BP executive told reporters in Houston. But waves as high as 12 feet would delay this week's plans to hook up a third system to capture much more oil, said Kent Wells, BP executive vice-president.
As a precautionary measure, Shell Oil Co, Exxon Mobil Corp, Anadarko Petroleum Corp and Apache Corp evacuated non-essential workers from platforms near Alex's path. Shell also shut subsea production at the Auger and Brutus platforms at the weekend.
Traders and brokers kept a close eye on Alex, but oil prices fell toward $78 per barrel on Monday as most forecasters predicted the storm would pass south-west of major US offshore oil and gas installations in the Gulf of Mexico. At least 10 people have been killed in Central America since the weekend in accidents related to Alex.