14 May 2011 20:39 [Source: ICIS news]
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HOUSTON (ICIS)--The US Army Corps of Engineers said it plans to begin opening the Morganza spillway in Louisiana on Saturday to relieve flooding on the lower Mississippi river, which in turn could limit disruptions to downstream chemical plants.
Colonel Ed Fleming, New Orleans district commander for the Corps, said part of the Morganza Spillway will be opened at 15:00 New Orleans time (20:00 GMT), releasing 10,000 cubic feet of water per second.
“Right now where we are standing by tomorrow we will have on the order of a couple of feet of water,” he said during a press conference at the base of the spillway, which is 186 river miles (299 kilometers) above New Orleans on the west bank in Pointe Coupee Parish.
Opening the spillway is expected to relieve pressure on the river and limit the disruptions to chemical plants downstream.
The Corps decided to open the spillway once a trigger point was reached, which is 1.5m cubic feet/second (42,000 cubic metres/second) of water passing the Red River Landing.
Only one bay of the spillway would be opened on Saturday, but more would be opened in coming days, the Corps said.
Corps Major General Michael Walsh, president of the Mississippi River Commission, said the spillway would be opened relatively slowly “ to give wildlife chance to get to higher ground [and] to give folks the understanding that water is coming their way and they need to evacuate”.
Flooding in the vicinity of the spillway could affect 25,000 people in the area, according to press reports.
Built in 1954, the spillway was last opened in 1973.
The Corp plans to eventually increase the rate of flow from the spillway to up 126,000 cubic feet of water per second in the next several days.
The spillway has the capacity to release 600,000 cubic feet of water per second.
The spillway could remain open for the next 2-3 weeks as the flood crest – now in Arkansas – slowly moves down the river.
Rising waters on the Mississippi river have already disrupted chemical operations and shipping along its lower portion in Louisiana, a heavy chemical corridor, the president of a trade group said on Friday.
While the high waters may not flood the plants, they could disrupt logistics and prevent plants from receiving feedstock and shipping out product.
Some plants are already having shipping problems, and have reduced operating rates, said Dan Borné, president of the Louisiana Chemical Association.
The longer the disruptions last, the wider the effects will be, Borné said. Plants far from the Mississippi river rely on Louisiana for feedstock.
If those plants cannot receive feedstock from the river region, they too could cut operation rates.
As far as specific plant disruptions, Mosaic said earlier that it would temporarily shut down its Louisiana phosphate operations because the flooding has caused problems to electrical power supplies.
Dow Chemical expects no flooding at its plants in Louisiana, the company said. However, on Saturday, Dow will cease dock operations at its sites in Plaquemine and St Charles as a precaution.
Dow will work to minimise the effect the dock shutdowns will have on customers, the company said.
Refineries along the river are unlikely to flood, and most receive the majority of their crude oil by pipeline, said Richard Metcalf, director of environmental affairs at the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association.
However, the high water could prevent refineries from shipping out product. As such, refiners will have to store the product until it can be shipped.
Metcalf said refiners could probably store production for about two weeks.
The lower Mississippi is home to several chemical plants. Plaquemine and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, have plants for companies including Georgia Gulf, , Shintech, , Formosa Plastics and Lion Copolymer.
There are 10 refineries along the lower portion of the Mississippi river.
Additional reporting by Al Greenwood
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