January 12, 2011 / 9:49 AM / 9 years ago

UPDATE 1-Cyclone brews off Australia's oil & gas, iron ore region

(Adds possible impact to oil and gas ops)

SYDNEY, Jan 12 (Reuters) - Tropical cyclone Vince is headed towards Australia’s northwest coast, home to some of Australia’s biggest oil and gas facilities and the region’s largest iron ore export port, the weather bureau said on Wednesday.

The cyclone is currently 1,050 km northwest of the town of Exmouth and is expected to move southeast for the next 48 hours and then curve back to the southwest, moving parallel to the coast.

Much of Australia’s offshore oil and gas production, including the A$20 billion ($19.742 billion) North West Shelf liquefied natural gas export project operated by Woodside , are located off the northwest coast.

Port Hedland, the region’s top iron ore terminal, is also located on the northwest coast.

Mining giants BHP Billiton , Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals export hundreds of millions of tonnes of iron ore from the Pilbara each year and cyclones frequently disrupt production and shipping in the Nov. 1-April 30 cyclone season.

Apache Energy said it is currently monitoring the cyclone movement, which may approach Apache facilities in the area over the next two to three days, but has taken no further action.

Woodside said on Wednesday that it was preparing its facilities, but that there was currently no impact to production.

Woodside, Apache Energy, and BHP Billiton have all been forced to shut offshore operations as a precaution for brief periods since the beginning of the current cyclone season.

Cyclones off Australia’s northwest annually force offshore oil and gas platforms to shut down temporarily.

Australia is facing almost double the usual number of destructive tropical cyclones, possibly as many as 22, across oil and gas, iron ore and sugar production regions during the 2010/11 cyclone season, the weather bureau said in October.

The largest increase in cyclones is expected off the northwest, with 11-12 cyclones predicted, compared with an average of seven. ($1 = 1.013 Australian Dollars) (Reporting by Balazs Koranyi in SYDNEY and Rebekah Kebede in PERTH)

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