Damage assessments under way at Louisiana refining complexes

Sept. 1, 2021
Timeframes for full restoration of operations at Louisiana’s major refining and petrochemical complexes remain uncertain amid extensive regional power outages in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.

Timeframes for full restoration of operations at Louisiana’s major refining and petrochemical complexes remain uncertain amid extensive regional power outages in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, the eye of which made landfall as a Category 4 storm along the southeastern coast of Louisiana, near Port Fourchon, at about 11:55 a.m. CST on Aug. 29 with estimated sustained winds of 150 mph (OGJ Online, Aug. 30, 2021).

As of midday on Sept. 1, operators of most refineries and petrochemical production plants in the storm-impacted greater New Orleans area were still in the process of conducting damage assessments of manufacturing sites, with no definitive timeframes for when those assessments might be completed, according to a series of posts to corporate websites and operators’ official social media channels.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) confirmed that as of 7:00 a.m. EDT on Sept. 1, seven of Louisiana’s nine major refineries that undertook precautionary shutdowns ahead of the hurricane’s arrival remained offline. While two refineries located in the Baton Rouge area—spared by the storm’s severest impacts—had initiated the restart process as of Aug. 31, DOE said the sites would not reach full production rates for at least several days.

Baton Rouge operations

Although DOE did not directly identify the Baton Rouge refineries, ExxonMobil Corp. subsidiary ExxonMobil Fuels & Lubricants Co. confirmed via official social media channels late on Aug. 31 that it was safely progressing restart of its 520,000-b/d Baton Rouge integrated refining and petrochemical complex in Baton Rouge, La., which did not sustain any major damage from the hurricane and maintained reduced operations throughout the weather event to stabilize equipment and minimize emissions. While it did not specify a timeframe for the complex’s return to full operation, the operator did warn the site would experience some flaring during the restart process.

Privately owned Placid Refining Co.—which operates a 75,000-b/d refinery in Port Allen, La., directly across the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge—has yet to officially confirm the status of current operations at the site.

New Orleans-area operations

At midday on Aug. 31, Royal Dutch Shell PLC confirmed assessments started on the morning of Aug. 30 at its 230,611-b/d integrated refining and petrochemicals complex in Norco, La., indicated that there was some evidence of unidentified building damage at the site, which lost power during the storm. Later that afternoon, however, the operator confirmed via social media posts the Norco complex—though still without electrical power—was in “a safe and stable condition” but would continue to experience flaring events until power was restored.

Alongside the refinery, Shell’s Norco complex produces 3.33 billion lb/year of ethylene, 1.44 billion lb/year of propylene, and 350,000 lb/year of butadiene, according to the operator’s website.

In another late-day Aug. 31 post to a separate official social media account, Shell said post-storm assessments were now completed at its Geismar, La., chemical manufacturing plant along the Mississippi River, about 20 miles south of Baton Rouge. Operating at reduced rates, the Geismar site—which produces 400,000 tonnes/year (tpy) of ethylene glycol and 1.39 million tpy of alpha olefins from ethylene feedstock it receives from the Norco complex—also was in “a safe and stable condition” and did not lose power during the storm, according to the operator.

As of midday on Sept. 1, Shell had no timeline for when Norco and Geismar would be able to resume full operations.

On Aug. 31, Valero Energy Corp. confirmed to OGJ via e-mail that it was in the process of conducting a thorough assessment of equipment and potential structural impacts from Ida at subsidiaries Valero Refining Meraux LLC’s 125,000-b/d refinery in Meraux, La., and Valero Refining New Orleans LLC’s 215,000-b/d refinery in Norco. The company said it also was working with third-party suppliers and utility providers on restoration of services to enable the restart process, for which there is no current estimate.

As of its most recent operational update issued late in the day on Aug. 31, Phillips 66 confirmed via a statement to the company’s website that post-storm assessments were ongoing at its 255,600-b/d Alliance refinery in Belle Chasse, La., which remained shuttered. The operator said timelines for the site’s restart remains largely dependent on assessment impacts and as well as reliable access to electricity and other utilities in the region.

Corporate policies requiring no disclosure of information regarding daily operations at manufacturing sites continues to leave the situational status unclear for Marathon Petroleum Corp.’s 578,000-b/d refinery in Garyville, La., and PBF Energy Inc. subsidiary Chalmette Refining LLC’s 185,000-b/d dual-train coking refinery in Chalmette, St. Bernard Parish, La., outside of New Orleans.

Power outages

As of Sept. 1, more than 1 million Louisiana residents were still without power, with estimated restoration times for the return of electricity anticipated to be established following completion of damage assessments to the regional transmission system on Sept. 2 at the earliest, Louisiana officials said in a midday conference broadcast on FOX 8 WVUE in New Orleans.

The potentially extended outages of the seven Louisiana refineries—which account for about 1.7 million b/d of refining capacity, or 9% of total US operable capacity—likely will not impact pricing or supplies of US refined product prices given ample supplies in storage as well as markedly lower seasonal demand for this time of year as a result of the resurgence in coronavirus (COVID-19) cases caused by its viral variants, according to DOE and IHS Markit analyses.