U.S. Gulf Coast refineries brace for severe cold

Refineries on the US Gulf Coast from southern Texas to central Louisiana were bracing for severe cold weather as early as Thursday evening, sources familiar with preparations at the plants said, nearly a year after a winter storm paralyzed the main refining center of the country.

The nation’s largest refiner, Marathon Petroleum Corp MPC.N, whose two largest plants, one in Louisiana and one in Texas, have a combined crude processing capacity of 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) , also said he was preparing for the cold.

“The safety of our employees, contractors and the community is our top priority, and we have comprehensive plans and procedures in place in the event of inclement weather,” Marathon spokesman Jamal Kheiry said.

Kheiry declined to discuss the specific steps refineries are taking to prepare for sub-zero temperatures.

Workers were packing exposed instruments needed to monitor equipment and water lines, the sources said. Some equipment protections were done earlier in the year.

The combined capacity of refineries in Texas and Louisiana that will face freezing temperatures is nearly 7 million bpd, or 38% of national capacity.

In mid-February 2021, winter storm Uri shut down production at Texas refineries by cutting off electricity and natural gas supplies.

“The record-breaking arctic cold that penetrated deep into Texas in mid-February (2021) hit Texas’ refining and petrochemical sectors as hard as any hurricane and with less warning,” said the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas in its second quarter 2021 report.

Refinery output in February 2021 fell to an average of 3.9 million bpd from 7.8 million bpd the previous month, according to the Dallas Fed.

“Operations did not fully resume until early April and suffered lasting damage,” the Dallas Federal Reserve said. Uri destroyed power plants, natural gas production, and the pipelines that supply power plants.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas said the power grid is prepared for cold weather this year, but outages can occur when ice from freezing rain knocks down power lines.
Source: Reuters (reporting by Erwin Seba edited by Marguerita Choy)