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Taking Toll of Rita

Hurricane Rita exacerbates energy, raw material woes started by Katrina

by Marc S. Reisch
September 27, 2005

Hurricane Rita walloped the oil, gas, and petrochemical industries along the U.S. Gulf Coast over the weekend, but initial reports indicate less damage than originally expected.

Still, this second blow, following close on the heels of Hurricane Katrina less than a month ago, again hurt gas and oil production, shut down petrochemical plants, and further tightened the availability of energy and raw materials.

On Sunday, the day after Rita made landfall along the border of Texas and Louisiana, the Gulf’s daily oil production of 1.5 million barrels was down to zero, according to the Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service. Daily gas production of 10 billion cu ft was 21% of normal.

Refineries in Port Arthur, Beaumont, and Texas City, Texas, were shuttered as Rita approached. They remained offline as of Monday, as did refineries in Westlake and Lake Charles, La. The massive ExxonMobil refinery in Baytown, Texas, reported no major damage and started up operations again on Sunday. Many other Texas refineries west of Baytown were either operating at reduced rates or had restarted.

Early reports from a few chemical makers show some damage. Windows were blown out of the administration building at PPG Industries’ Lake Charles plant, where the wind also destroyed sheds and damaged some roofs. Standing water at one point made parts of the plant inaccessible, but almost all areas are accessible now, a spokesman says.

PPG is concentrating on getting electric power restored. In the meantime, it has declared force majeure for all products manufactured at the plant including caustic soda, chlorine, vinyl chloride, ethylene dichloride, perchloroethylene, 1,1,1-trichloroethane, and various other chlorinated solvents.

Dow Chemical plants in Texas and Louisiana, including the plants in Plaquemine and Hahnville, La., damaged by Katrina, so far appear to have suffered no significant structural damage from Rita, the firm reports. But Dow adds that this latest storm further complicates raw material and transportation logistics around the Gulf of Mexico.



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