Possible hurricane may threaten Gulf oil, chems in US

Author: Al Greenwood


HOUSTON (ICIS)--A tropical depression in the Gulf of Mexico could strengthen into a hurricane by Sunday, threatening offshore oil wells as well as the ports, chemical plants and refineries along the Texas coast, meteorologists said.

The forecast still has quite a bit of uncertainty as shown in the following map. The shaded area shows the possible path in the next three days. The dotted area shows the possible path in the next 4-5 days.

Source: National Hurricane Center

Tropical Depression 22 is 275 miles (445 km) east-northeast of Tampico, Mexico and 255 miles southeast from the mouth of the Rio Grande river.

Maximum sustained winds are 35 miles/hour, and the depression should strengthen into a tropical storm later in the day. It could become a hurricane by Sunday.

If the depression does strengthen as forecast, it could become the fourth to threaten the Gulf Coast during the past 30 days.

Already, oil companies have evacuated production platforms and shut-in wells in the Gulf of Mexico as a result of the earlier storms. Almost a third of US oil production remained offline on Thursday.

The tropical depression could lead to more shut-ins just as companies begin to restart wells that were shut-in because of Hurricane Sally.

The Texas Gulf Coast is home to several chemical plants, refineries and terminals that export oil, fuel, liquefied natural gas (LNG) and natural gas liquids (NGLs) such as ethane and liquified petroleum gas (LPG).

If the depression strengthens and if it approaches the coast, then companies could shut down these terminals and plants as a precaution.

This year's hurricane season has been unusually busy for the Gulf Coast.

Marco made landfall on 24 August in Louisiana as a tropical storm after weakening from a hurricane. The storm caused companies to shut-in some oil wells as a precaution.

Hurricane Laura made landfall days later on 27 August as a powerful Category 4 storm in Louisiana near the border of Texas.

It caused even more shut-ins. Several chemical plants and refineries in Louisiana and Texas shut down as a result of the storm.

Several remained down because of power outages. Lake Charles, Louisiana, was hit particularly hard, causing many plants to remain offline. The last should resume operations in mid-October.

Louisiana was threatened by a third storm, Hurricane Sally, earlier this week before it changed course and made landfall in Alabama on 16 September.

A couple of companies shut down plants in Louisiana as a precaution.

INEOS Phenol, one of the few companies that makes chemicals in Alabama, shut down its phenol and acetone plant in Mobile because of a power outage.

The disruptions caused by the storms had squeezed chemical markets that were already tight.

Click here to view the US Gulf storms – impacts on chemicals topic page.