Jeremy Alford

A possible oil calamity?

by Jeremy Alford

As Hurricane Ike inches toward Texas’ gulf-flanked border this morning, sending infant tidal surges over Louisiana’s coastline, officials with the state Department of Natural Resources were running a set of numbers through their heads. “From Corpus Christi (in Texas) to Lake Charles, there are 17 refineries. Of those, 10 are among the nation’s top 20 producing sites,” says DNR Secretary Scott Angelle. “I expect that we’ll see some issues arising there.”

This area along the Texas coast is home to roughly 23 percent of domestic oil-processing capacity. That means, due to Ike-related shutdowns, 19 percent of the country’s refining capacity is already offline. Closer to home, the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, the largest oil-import terminal in the U.S., has shuttered operations as well.

Port Fourchon, another operation on standby in lower Lafourche Parish, is another major concern for Angelle. The port, which is responsible for 18 percent of the nation’s oil supplies, is in a strategic location – one that is unfortunately prone to flooding and wind damage. “I think they’re going to take a pretty good lick,” Angelle says. “I got my eye on Fourchon right now.” 
Still, Louisiana’s basic oil and gas infrastructure appears to have weathered Hurricane Gustav and, for the most part, Angelle says it will likely weather Ike as well. A complete assessment of Gustav’s impact, however, still isn’t complete.

As Ike stirred up coastal waters this morning, Angelle’s emergency outreach team was barely halfway through with its assessment of the state’s oil-and-gas operators that were impacted by Hurricane Gustav last week. There are 126 operators in the 17-parish impact zone left behind by Gustav, but DNR has contacted only 57.

Once Ike passes, Angelle says the assessment process will have to begin all over again. “But we’ll be working 24-7 to get back on track,” he says.