UpdatePlants, refineries brace for high water on Mississippi river

10 May 2011 00:22  [Source: ICIS news]

Flooding along the Mississippi(Adds details throughout)

HOUSTON (ICIS)--Chemical plants and refineries along the lower Mississippi river were bracing for the impact of high water and possible flooding, industry sources said on Monday.

Baton Rouge and Plaquemine sit on the river and they each have several chemical plants.

Companies with plants in Plaquemine include Georgia Gulf, Dow Chemical and Shintech.

Those with plants in Baton Rouge include ExxonMobil, Formosa Plastics and Lion Copolymer.

The river flood crest could reach Baton Rouge by 23-24 May, according to news media accounts.

Producers began pre-shipping material last week, said Dan Borne, president of the Louisiana Chemical Association.

High water levels could disrupt operations in several ways.

If the river gets too high, it could prevent plants from receiving raw materials and from shipping out product, Borne said.

Some plants could rely on railroads or trucks for shipments, he said. But others deal in such large volumes that shipping costs could rise tremendously.

"Some of these shipments are so huge, they only lend themselves to barges," he said.

Plants could store some of their product in warehouses until water levels fall, Borne said. But that will depend on both the amount of on-site storage and the type of the chemical being produced.

Rising waters could also cover up pipes from which plants discharge effluent, Borne said. That also could disrupt operations.

A source with Cornerstone Chemicals reported that its 60,000 tonne/year melamine plant in Donaldsonville, Louisiana, was “high and dry” and there were no plans for a shutdown.

Meanwhile, the US was taking steps to take pressure off the river.

The US Army Corps of Engineers opened the Bonnet Carre Spillway. It is the 10th time the Corps has opened the spillway.

The Corps may also open the Morganza Spillway, Borne said. The last time the Corps opened the Morganza Spillway was in 1973.

In all, the extent of disruptions on chemical shipping will depend on how high the water rises on the Mississippi river and how long it stays high, Borne said.

With high water, shipments could be prohibited - to prevent vessels from accidently hitting the soggy levees, causing a breach, Borne said. "In the end, it is going to be about the safety on the river."

Shell was preparing for rising water and possible marine traffic closure by the US Coast Guard, which could affect Shell’s ability to load barges and ships at its Geismar and Norco facilities in Louisiana, said company spokesperson Jill Davis.

“We are coordinating efforts to limit the effects this may have on supplying our customers and will be moving as many products by rail and truck as our logistics assets and the railroad’s schedules allow,” Davis said.

ExxonMobil Chemical spokesman George Pietrogallo said the company’s Baton Rouge complex was “monitoring the developing situation and making preparations to address potential impacts of the forecasted high water conditions”.

Upstream, the Mississippi river was expected to crest at a near-record high of 48 feet (15 metres) on Monday night or Tuesday.

Valero 195,000 bbl/day refinery at Memphis, Tennessee, remained up and running, said company spokesman Bill Day.

Valero also operates a 250,000 bbl/day refinery at St Charles, Louisiana.

“We are obviously monitoring the situation but believe both refineries will remain in operation even as the river crests,” Day said.

However, the river conditions could prevent barge traffic at the St Charles refinery, but the facility can also transport product by rail, pipeline and road.

Additional reporting by Ruth Liao, Frank Zaworski and Brian Ford

By: Al Greenwood
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