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Hurricane Update: Refinery Restarts, Fuel Supplies Rise

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted September 18, 2017

Much of the energy-related news from hurricane-recovery areas of Texas and Florida continues to be encouraging. Shell said it was restarting its Deer Park refinery in the Houston area that was shut down three weeks ago with the approach of Hurricane Harvey. ExxonMobil said it could start most of the production units at its Beaumont, Texas, refinery later this week. In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott said pre-Hurricane Irma preparations and a concentrated focus on refueling the state’s communities have shown progress.

At peak outage more than 60 percent of Florida’s gasoline stations in storm-impacted areas reported being without fuel, with 70 percent of stations out of fuel in the most heavily traveled area of the state, Scott’s office reported. Fuel shortages have decreased to less than 30 percent of stations, with fuel availability statewide expected to normalize over the next few days. GasBuddy.com data showing reported fuel outages in Miami and Tampa/St. Petersburg before and after Irma, through Friday:

florida_gasoline_outages

Scott credited this to a collaborative effort to get Florida resupplied after Irma:

“I want to thank the fuel industry, Florida ports, the Florida Highway Patrol and all of our federal and state partners for their commitment to continuing to help Florida as we quickly refuel. We have continued to dedicate every resource and take every action to eliminate barriers and restrictions to moving fuel around the state. But, there is still work to be done and we will not stop until we get fuel back in every station.”

Facts on the ground in Florida certainly underscore the effective work carried out by people in the supply chain – refinery workers, fueling terminal employees, tanker truck drivers and retail owners/operators – aided by the temporary waiving of certain restrictions on fuel types, hours of service for truck drivers and weight limits that allowed product to move more efficiently from as far away as Iowa.

It’s also a credit to the general resiliency of energy infrastructure itself, and to a flexible, adaptable supply system’s ability to shift fuel from well-supplied areas to others in the greatest need – assisted by state highway patrol escorts getting fuel tanker trucks to specific locations as quickly as possible. Again, while recovery and refueling efforts continue in Florida, it looks like the efforts of many to mitigate the severe storms’ impacts are helping.

Similarly, in Texas efforts to protect energy infrastructure from big weather events appear to have helped. Reuters reports that according to company filings with the U.S. Coast Guard, spills reported during and after Harvey are a fraction of those during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. More from the Financial Times (subscription required):

Three weeks on, it is clear that the oil and gas companies have mostly been able to withstand the threat. Lessons learned from previous storms, in particular hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, have made operations more resilient. “This storm was a test for how well the US can deal with these threats,” says Jamie Webster of the BCG Center for Energy Impact. “The industry, I would say, has passed with flying colours so far.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.