More than 17 percent of U.S. oil refining capacity has been crippled because of flooding and power outages brought on by Hurricane Harvey along Texas’ Gulf Coast, according to new reports issued by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Ten refineries in the Gulf Coast area are shut down—including the nation’s two largest-capacity refineries-- and two others are operating at reduced capacity, the Energy Department reports. “DOE is closely monitoring the product supply following the impacts from Hurricane Harvey,” the government agency said in its daily update. “Currently gasoline stocks in the Southeast are at or above the historic five-year range.” While gasoline prices have inched up a few cents in some parts of the U.S. that are supplied by the Texas facilities, the overall impact of the shutdowns and slowdowns could be offset by unusually high inventories. The shuttered refineries have a combined refining capacity of 3,075,229 barrels per day, nearly one-third of total Gulf Coast refining capacity and about 17 percent of total U.S.refining capacity, the energy department said. The nation’s two largest-capacity refineries –the Saudi Aramco Motiva refinery in Port Arthur, Tex., and Exxon Mobil’s Baytown refinery—are among those closed.
Oil platforms shut down, port activities reduced
Flooding from the storm, which has killed at least 38 people and dumped a record-breaking 50 inches of rain on Houston, has impacted virtually every aspect of the oil and gas industry. Industry officials say it could take weeks to fully assess the damage to refineries, oil platforms, pipelines and other infrastructure. Heavy flooding forced Gulf Coast ports to either close or reduce their capacities, creating a back up of ships in the Gulf of Mexico. The port of Houston is only partially operating and the port of Corpus Christi could be unusable for days, if not weeks, because of a drill ship that broke loose from tugboats and smashed aground in the narrow shipping channel near Port Aransas, one of the worst choke points on the coast. The hurricane and the flooding it caused disrupted rail traffic on major lines servicing the oil and gas sector in Texas. Pipelines, including the Colonial Pipeline, which is a key supply channel to America’s East Coast, are operating at reduced levels because of limited supplies in Houston.
The Energy Department said even though six refineries have begun the process of restarting, it “may take a several days or weeks depending whether they have been damaged.” The restarts could also be delayed by port and rail closures and crude supply disruptions.
Risk of toxic pollution
Citizens living near petroleum facilities have been alarmed in many communities by excess levels of nitrous oxides pumped into the air from flaring of excess gas at numerous facilities. ExxonMobil reported that a roof covering a tank at the Baytown refinery sank during the punishing rains causing abnormally high emissions of volatile organic compounds. The company told Texas authorities it will need to empty the tank before it can begin repairs. At its Beaumont, Texas facility, the storm damaged equipment that captures and burns sulfur dioxide, resulting in the release of of 1,313 pounds of the toxic substance—far more than allowed under regulations. Prior to the storm, companies pulled crews from nearly 100 platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, according to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.