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) -- The shutdown of oil and gas drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico widened on Thursday as tropical storms bore down on U.S. waters.


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Anadarko Petroleum

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are among the operators in the Gulf of Mexico temporarily closing down major drilling projects and evacuating staff.

Government weather forecasters predict a 70% chance for a storm system to hit the U.S. in the next 48 hours that could become a cyclone to be dubbed "Lee." Hurricane Katia, a category 1 hurricane, is also in Atlantic waters, but too far off to pose a predictable threat.

Anadarko said it is evacuating all workers and shutting down all eight of its oil and gas rigs in the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday.

BP evacuated non-essential workers from its largest Gulf project, Thunder Horse, on Wednesday and by Thursday was shutting down production in all eight of its Gulf projects and evacuating all workers, according to an anonymously sourced report from


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BP's Thunder Horse project is the largest in the Gulf with production of up to 250,000 barrels of crude daily. Roughly 30% of U.S. oil production is located in the Gulf; while 12% of natural gas production is in the Gulf.

Apache said it had started to evacuate workers from its Gulf operations on Thursday, as did


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While the shutdowns will affect short-term production, hurricane season is an annual event for companies drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and equity traders downplayed the significance of the shutdowns as far as the impact on share prices.

"Everyone is shutting down Gulf production and their shares are not getting hit," Chris Martens, energy equity trader at Oppenheimer & Co. The energy sector was close to flat on Thursday and Anadarko shares were down by 0.6% at mid-day, as compared to the BP drop of 4%. Apache shares were close to flat.

BP shares are more likely reacting to its ongoing -- and potentially worsening --

problems in Russia

, where court officers raided BP Moscow offices for the second straight day.

Phil Weiss, analyst at Argus Research, said hurricane season in the Gulf, as a trading event, is more for refiner stocks than for the oil and gas exploration and production companies, as it can impact utilization and refining volumes to a greater degree in the short-term. While Apache or Anadarko production would be affected by a hurricane hitting the Gulf, he noted that Anadarko always says its production guidance includes an estimated hurricane impact. Therefore, Anadarko might beat numbers if a hurricane doesn't hit, but still make production guidance if a hurricane does temporarily shut operations. "Unless it hits and does serious damage, I don't worry about this for the E&P companies."

-- Written by Eric Rosenbaum from New York.

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