HOUSTON, Sept 14 (Reuters) — Energy companies, ports and refiners on Monday raced to complete shutdowns as Tropical Storm Sally bores in on the central U.S. Gulf Coast with expectations that it will soon become a hurricane.

The storm will disrupt oil imports and exports as the nation's sole offshore terminal, the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, stopped loading and offloading tanker ships on Sunday and the port of New Orleans closes Monday. Numerous offshore production facilities are shutting just a few weeks after Hurricane Laura forced roughly 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) of output to close.

Sally will move over the north-central Gulf of Mexico on Monday before becoming a hurricane as it heads toward southeastern Louisiana and western Mississippi, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. Officials in the two states issued mandatory evacuations for residents in low-lying areas.

The U.S. Coast Guard said all southbound vessel traffic from the port of New Orleans would be brought to a halt at noon CDT (1700 GMT) on Monday and stop all traffic from the port at 6 p.m. CDT (2300 GMT).

Chevron Corp, BP Plc, Chevron, Equinor and Murphy Oil all evacuated some offshore workers from production platforms, the companies reported. Royal Dutch Shell Plc curtailed production at its Olympus, Mars and Appomattox platforms on Monday, the company said.

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U.S. Gulf of Mexico offshore oil production delivers about 17% of U.S. crude oil and 5% of U.S. natural gas output. As much as 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) of offshore oil production was shut in by Hurricane Laura last month.

The port of New Orleans and LOOP combined exported about 307,000 bpd of crude and 411,000 bpd of refined products and imported about 342,000 bpd in crude volumes in the three months through August, according to Kpler data.

Refiners in the region have also begun to wind down operations. Shell cut production to minimum rates on Monday at its 227,400 bpd Norco, Louisiana, refinery, including idling the refinery's crude distillation unit, said sources familiar with plant operations.

The Alliance oil refinery, which processes 255,000 bpd at a site on the coast of Louisiana, was shutting down, said operator Phillips 66.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba, Gary McWilliams in Houston and Devika Krishna Kumar in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Jonathan Oatis)