BY ERWIN SEBA
The U.S. energy industry on Tuesday was preparing for a major hurricane strike, cutting crude production at a rate approaching the level of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina and halting oil refining at plants along the Texas/Louisiana coast.
Officials in the two states called for hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate as Hurricane Laura intensified and forecasters predicted it would become a major hurricane with sustained, 115 mile per hour winds.
The intensification will bring at least a 10-foot (3-meter) storm surge to the upper Texas coast later this week and could produce a devastating category 4 hurricane, said Chris Kerr, a meteorologist at agriculture, energy and weather data provider DTN.
Oil producers on Tuesday had evacuated 310 offshore facilities and shut 1.56 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude output, 84% of Gulf of Mexico’s offshore production, near the 90% outage that Katrina brought 15 years ago.
The storm will make landfall by early Thursday in an area that accounts for more than 45% of total U.S. petroleum refining capacity and 17% of oil production, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Refiners that produce gasoline and diesel fuel were taking steps to halt eight coastal facilities with nearly 2.78 million bpd of processing, 14.6% of the U.S. total capacity, according to Reuters tallies.
The impact on refineries so far is less than Hurricane Harvey, whose drenching rains took down nearly one quarter of U.S. refining capacity three years ago.
U.S. gasoline futures have jumped as much as 10% since Friday, while crude benchmarks settled at a five-month high on Tuesday due to the shutdowns.
“There will be a significant storm surge from Galveston (Texas) to the Sabine River,” an area encompassing some of the region’s largest refineries, said DTN’s Kerr. “There are ideal conditions in central and west Gulf for rapid intensification.”
Officials in several Texas and Louisiana communities called for mandatory evacuations affecting half a million people. Residents from areas of Houston to Orange, Texas, should flee the area and seek shelter inland, Texas officials said.