30 August 1999 00:00 [Source: ICB Americas]By Don Richards
Petrochemical plants and refineries along the southern coast of Texas are rapidly returning to normal operations and seem virtually unscathed by the passage of Hurricane Bret.
The small, tightly wound storm, with central winds of 145 miles per hour, threatened the entire Texas coast before it moved inland south of Corpus Christi on August 22. Jim Hoke, director of the National Weather Service's National Hydrometeorological Emergency Center, initially warned that the hurricane had a "clear potential of producing [a] major disaster."
But instead of hitting Corpus Christi (population 300,000) or Brownsville (132,000), Bret crossed midway between the two cities and hit sparsely populated Kenedy County, home of the storied 825,000-acre King Ranch, inhabited by 60,000 cattle and 458 people.
Refining and chemical plants at Corpus Christi were within 70 miles of the eye of the hurricane, but no damage was reported. Plant personnel took elaborate precautions, shutting down units starting on August 21.
Refineries owned by Valero (171,500 barrels per day), Koch (300,000 b/d), Citgo (190,000 b/d) and Coastal (100,000 b/d) were phased down prior to the storm, leaving only their utilities sections operating.
Officials at the companies say their units came back on line early last week, subject to the return of employees, many of whom had evacuated and were coming back from as far away as San Antonio.
Spokesman David Harpole says Equistar's 1.75-billion-pound-per-year ethylene plant at Corpus Christi was shuttered on August 21 and started back up on August 23. The firm's 450-million-pound-per-year polyethylene plant at Victoria, further north, followed a similar pattern.
Equistar's 1-billion-pound-per-year HDPE plant at Matagorda, even further north, never was out of service. Celanese's Bishop facility, west of Corpus Christi, reopened after shutting down because of high winds. There were no problems at Bay City, farther up the coast.
DuPont's Victoria plant, which manufactures nearly 20 percent of the world's nylon intermediates, shut down all of its process units on August 21 but returned to operation early on August 23.
In the Lavaca Bay area, Formosa Plastics Texas called off a hurricane watch at its big complex in Point Comfort. Formosa's hurricane emergency plan is activated whenever a storm is 72 hours away from the plant. The countdown for the hurricane began on August 20 but terminated on August 21.
The olefins unit, rated at 1.5 billion pounds of ethylene per year, ran at reduced rates but is now operating fully, along with all other parts of the complex.
Union Carbide says that prior to the hurricane, its 915-million-pound-per-year ethylene plant in Seadrift cut its olefins output in half. The company's 300-million-pound-per-year polypropylene unit was down briefly, and the startup of facility's ethylene-propylene rubber plant was delayed. All other units continued to run. Impacted plants restarted on August 23.
Plants at Freeport owned by Dow Chemical Company, Shintech Inc. and BASF got ready for the hurricane but stood down as the storm moved inland well south of the area. Units at these facilities continued to operate.
Kirby Corporation, Houston, the largest domestic operator of inland tank barges with a fleet of 511 barges and 126 towing vessels, says that all of its vessels that laid up "for a day or so" are moving again.
On August 23, the Galveston District of US Army Corps of Engineers sent boats from Galveston, Corpus Christi and Brownsville to survey the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, the Corpus Christi Ship Channel and the Matagorda Ship Channel for damage. All locks are operating and barge traffic is moving.Houston RoundupSHINTECH ROAD DISPUTE: The controversy over Shintech Inc.'s efforts to build a polyvinyl chloride plant flared up again at an August 19 meeting of the Louisiana State Bond Commission. Local residents are opposing the construction of an extension of state Route 1148 to the site near Plaquemine.
Elizabeth Avants of Plaquemine says residents in her area want the road built because it is needed as a hurricane evacuation route, but they do not want the plant. Les Ann Kirkman of Iberville Parish says the plant will contaminate the area with cancer-causing chemicals.
But commission members approved the financing plan without dissent, along with $7.8 million worth of capital projects that need lines of credit so they can proceed before the state sells the bonds authorized in the capital outlay bill.
Martha Hess of the Attorney General's office says the capital outlay bill does not link construction of the roadway to the Shintech plant. She notes that road construction can proceed even though plant permits still are pending.
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