Imelda's rains shut Texas chem plants, disrupts rail

Author: Lane Kelley

2019/09/20

HOUSTON (ICIS)--Tropical depression Imelda that has lingered over southeast Texas this week continued to disrupt rail lines and shut down chemical plants, mostly in or near Beaumont.

Of 10 plant shutdowns reported over the past three days, seven are in the Beaumont-Port Arthur-Orange area east of Houston.

Railroads have also reported disruptions from the heavy rains and flash floods in the Beaumont and Galveston areas.

Union Pacific said Imelda caused road closures in Beaumont that affected travel for crews and support staff and in some instances restricted their ability to reach flooded areas.

The railroad said customers with shipments moving through Beaumont and Galveston could experience delays from 48-72 hours. Union Pacific is issuing embargoes for the affected areas and advised customers to refer to published embargo notices for specific parameters.

Kansas City Southern's statement said its crews are on location and will begin repairs as soon as the weather permits. The statement said there is no estimated time for repairs to be made or when the line will be reopened. Kansas City Southern also said there would be delays once the line is reopened, though it has no estimate yet for when repairs will made or when the line will reopen.

The Beaumont area of east Texas contains 25% of all petrochemical capacity in Texas, according to the ICIS Supply & Demand Database.

The National Weather Service (NWS) said Imelda has brought over 40 inches (102cm) of rainfall to southeast Texas this week, with 43 inches falling in Jefferson County, where Beaumont is the county seat.

Rainfall from Imelda bears comparison with Hurricane Harvey two years ago, which poured more than 50 inches of rain on the Houston area.

The storm has brought some flooding and high water to the Houston area, with a bridge over the San Jacinto River shut down after nine barges broke away from their moorings and hit it early Friday, according to the Coast Guard.

Six of the barges have been corralled for transport to fleet areas, the Coast Guard said, with one barge carrying caustic soda, another lube oil and the others containing soybean oil.

The Coast Guard had already suspended vessel movement under the bridge because of strong currents, and the suspension remains in effect. No pollution has been reported, and teams are on site and prepared to respond if necessary, the Coast Guard said.

Parts of the Houston area, where many of the nation’s petrochemical plants are located, remain under a flood watch through Saturday.

Imelda has begun to dissipate, with the weather service predicting 1-3 inches of rainfall on Friday.

The following lists plants that have been shut down from Imelda over the past two days:

A state filing on Arkema's shutdown did not say if it was related to weather conditions from the storm.

There were reports in the Houston Chronicle and Reuters that the Total and Valero Energy refineries in Port Arthur were operating at reduced capacity, but it could not be confirmed and the companies did not respond immediately to phone calls and emails.

The following graphic shows the plant outages reported during the past two days.

Interactive content by Jessie Waldheim

Additional reporting by Jessie Waldheim, Amanda Hay, Zachary Moore and Tracy Dang

Image above shows flooding caused by Imelda. Photo by US Coast Guard