Isaac Halts Petroleum Production and Refining: Open Thread

Tropical Storm Isaac appears headed for New Orleans sometime early Wednesday, and as of 5 PM EDT Monday, was predicted to become a category 2 hurricane before coming ashore. Due to evacuations of personnel from infrastructure in Isaac's path, US oil and gas production as well as refining have been reduced. Shown below is a Google Map with layers showing the past and projected storm track and the petroleum infrastructure in its way. The map and this post will be updated as more information comes in.

You can toggle individual layers by clicking the buttons on the right. Unfortunately, toggling the Vis Sat photo ON causes a refresh which resets the zoom. Clicking on placemarks launches a window with some identifying information. Data is currently updated using NOAA advisory #29.

[Update] There were registration issues with the satellite image of Isaac, and most people know what a hurricane looks like. I thus replaced it with 120 hour wind speed estimates, specifically:

The 120 hour cumulative wind speed probabilities show probabilities of sutained (1-minute average) surface (10-meter altitude) wind speeds equal to or exceeding one of the following thresholds: 34 kt...39 mph (tropical storm force) 50 kt...58 mph (50-knot) 64 kt...74 mph (hurricane force) at a regulary spaced (1/2 degree) grid of points.
Below shows the 74 mph probability, ranging from >20% to >50%.

[Update] Here is the breakdown of infrastructure disruption due to Isaac as provided by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement:

  Total  Percentage of GOM 
Platforms Evacuated  346 58.05%
Rigs Evacuated  41 53.9%
  Total shut-in  Percentage of GOM Production 
Oil, BOPD Shut-in  1,076,642 78.02%
Gas, MMCF/D Shut-in  2,165.94 48.13%

[Update] Rigzone reports that BSEE reports that the GOM oil and gas shut ins are now 93% and 67%, although I can't find those numbers on the BSEE website.

Here is a good document from DOE on the energy-related impacts of GOM hurricanes in 2005 and 2008:

Katrina was a category 5 hurricane, this one is, according to the up-to-the-minute updates from the NYT tracking service, more likely to become a category 1, which could dip into category 2 very briefly.

The damage we're likely to see on the oil rigs are going to be much less severe than what happened with Katrina. Part of it is simply because it's far weaker. The second part is that post-Katrina a lot of new improvements were made to increase the toughness of the rigs. And after the Deepwater Horizon spill was this done even more.

The crude oil production isn't the problem here.

What may be a problem is the refineries, or at least a part of them. Almost 50 % of all U.S. refinieres come from that area, while only 10 % of all crude oil production does. So the price is gas, which is much more vulnerable to refineries than raw crude oil production, is the most likely candidate to suffer.

This probably means that the SPR will be released, since gas price futures are already rising very fast, even pre-Isaac.

The last time gas futures reached those levels, the price of gas was around $3.98. And this chart is already about 4 days old.

It remains to be seen if a release of the SPR, which I consider to be very likely by now, will stop the march towards $4.00 gas.
And if the barrier is breached, for how long it would stay there.

And that duration depends in large part of the damage done on the refineries.


Here is the NYT tracking service, it works really well.

So now it won't even be a category 2, and it might not even become a category 1 hurricane at all. This is good news.
It remains to be seen if there a surprise to the downside but each passing hour has thus far meant a decrease in it's strength.
That's likely to continue and be a mostly non-event as hinted earlier.

How will SPR oil help reduce gas (petrol) prices, short term? It still needs to be refined, and that's where the bottleneck is; too many refineries down. Refineries that are online are already operating near full capacity.

Depends how you define 'short term'.

Also, note that I didn't endorse the idea.
I just said it was to become even more likely than it already is.

Gas price futures surged pre-Isaac and are now at very high levels, signalling a strong increase in gas prices overall.

So if the drumbeat is already on to tap the SPR before the current hurricane buzz, then this development will just add fuel to the fire.

As for empirical evidence, the last time the U.S. tapped SPR, it did not materially change the oil price. But politicians want to be seen 'doing something' and the SPR is a well-worn tactic.

Gasoline and oil prices could decouple if refining gets shut down for a longer period after gulf oil wells and LOOP are back up and running.

Wells getting shut in always means more work for thru tubing service companies that do remedial and workover work. Once you shut a well in you can't always get it to come back on line. I have worked on wells in the GOM that were shut in for a storm that wouldn't flow for two or three years after the storm had passed. It can get tricky!

I believe that regular gas prices in Southeast Florida are up about .077 the last week continuing an upward trend in August. I heard the average was now 3.88 and last Sunday I spent 3.92 due, I assume, to some local delivery shortages (Port Everglades seems "full") pre Isaac.

The range in the last 24 hours is a cut rate of 3.59 and a high of 4.25. Yeooww.

I do expect to see regular over 4.00 soon up from a low in the 3.30s not all that long ago.


Joules - nice overlay map!

Just driving around today between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale I saw prices for regular between $3.88 to just over $4.00 the most common price today seemed to be $3.99. Hey, that's not $4.00, right? LOL!

True, this will not be another Katrina -- for many reasons. But the latest NOAA advisories do not indicate it is decreasing in strength "with each passing hour".

As you suggest, oil production is less an issue than refining, although the unloading of ships at the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) have been suspended. Fortunately, refining inventories are ample.

Gasoline inventories in the Gulf Coast remain at seasonally high levels. For the week to August 17, they stood at 70.2 million barrels, or 1.1 million barrels above their five-year average level for the week, according to Department of Energy figures.

Whether or not this is a "non-event" depends on what you are expecting. A lot of stuff is shut down, probably through Wednesday.

Katrina was a category 3 when it made landfall - not a 4 or 5
"Four months after the storm, a destroyed home and debris sit on Delacroix Island in St. Bernard Parish, Lousiana.
When it slammed ashore on the Gulf Coast in August, Hurricane Katrina was a strong Category 3 storm, not a Category 4 as initially thought, the National Hurricane Center said Tuesday."

Yes, I had heard that, too. I wonder, though, if the storm surge was greater than a long-duration cat 3 due to the fact is was a cat 4-5 prior to its cat 3 landfall.

Evacuations: Apparent a lot of folks in La. are taking the storm serious despite its low strength. I was on I-10 east of Houston this morning at 0530 and traffic was unusually heavy coming from the east (La.). Normally 65 mph with few vehicles but closer to 45 mph with a lot. Didn't catch many license plates but some were La. Lots of folks in S. La. have family/friends in the Houston area so it makes sense. Just a bit surprising to see such a noticeable movement.

I'm guessing that the major impact from this storm will be widespread power outages, with localized heavy flooding. I would think that the power outages are going to make it more difficult to get the refinery and product transportation network back up and running.

Obama is about to make some comments about the storm. It occurs to me that the most sensible thing he could do would be to ask people to curtail their driving, heading into the Labor Day weekend, given the probability that we are headed for actual spot shortages of gasoline, but the betting seems to be that he will talk about, IMO, a basically useless release of crude from the SPR.

Edit: Obama did not mention either the SPR or gasoline consumption.
Bryan Norcross' Official Blog
11:33 AM GMT on August 28, 2012

The track is pretty clear now. The center should come ashore near the Mississippi River Delta, the far southeastern tip of Louisiana. This track will put the highest winds over New Orleans that the city has seen in decades. And, it will be relentless. Winds will pick up during the day today with the strongest winds in the city this evening and overnight. Then the pounding will only slowly recede tomorrow.

Strong onshore winds will also affect the Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida Panhandle, but the track of the center into Louisiana will mean the winds farther east won't be perpendicular to the coast, which will keept the storm surge heights a little less that they would have been with a track farther east. Still a maximum of 4 to 8 feet of water above the land is forecast for the Alabama coast, and 3 to 6 feet in the Panhandle. Storm surge flooding is continuing to affect low lying areas in the Florida Peninsula due to the large area covered by the circulation.

The highest storm surge - the forecast continues to be 6 to 12 feet - will be on the Gulf side of southeast Louisiana and in Mississippi. This won't be Katrina, but life-threatening high water will be pushed over the coast today and tonight. The onshore winds will keep the water high for an extended period. Low-lying areas inland will be especially dangerous due to flooding rains that can't drain at their normal rate.

Looking at the bright side, Isaac's projected path will see it dump a lot of water in some of the places its needed most. While too late to help this year's grain crops much, I'm sure these folks will take as much rain as they can get, and perhaps this event will help get the Mississippi flowing better.

Here's a potential dark side to that bright side: soil erosion. Since a lot of the corn and soybean crop failed due to heat and drought, much was plowed under and perhaps replanted. How vulnerable is that soil to heavy rains?

Yeah, Joules, I considered that, and that there will likely be some flooding. Nature answers prayers on her own terms.

Aren't there already issues with salt water intrusion becuase of the drought/low levels on the Mississippi?

With Mississippi River levels at near-record lows (close to 10 feet lower than normal in some locations), officials are concerned the wedge will push far enough inland to contaminate New Orleans’ water supply.

New Orleans has a water intake pipe about 95 miles (153 kilometers) north of the point where the main stem of the Mississippi branches off before disappearing into the Gulf of Mexico.

The leading edge of the Gulf’s saltwater wedge is currently about 90 miles (145 kilometers) from the river mouth, just a few miles shy of the city’s supply.

WSJ article:

Energy suppliers and traders are taking heed of a lesson last learned four years ago when Category 2 hurricanes Gustav and Ike briefly cut refinery operations in the Gulf Coast by half to under 3.5 million barrels a day. Large swaths of the U.S. Southeast felt the impact for more than a week as gasoline shortages cropped up in states such as South Carolina and Georgia, and panic buying prevented gas stations and wholesalers from replenishing inventories.

This year, stockpiles are already stretched in some parts of the country reliant on shipments from the Gulf Coast. Gasoline stockpiles on the U.S. East Coast as of Aug. 17 were at the lowest level in 22 years for this time of year. The region receives about one million barrels a day of petroleum products from the Gulf.

"In the U.S. gasoline market right now, stocks are tight.…A one- or two-day interruption of Gulf Coast product production is meaningful," said Brison Bickerton, who is head of strategy at energy trading firm Freepoint Commodities.

Just eyeballing the graph without knowing anything past this time last year or it's whole range on the graph PADD1 seems to be on the low end of things right now.

Most of the deaths following hurricans are in fact not directly related to hurricanes, but follow consequences of the aftermath(i.e. robberies gone wrong, fallen trees on the road around a corner that the drivers fail to anticipate and so on).

For example, Hurricane Rita in 2005 had an impact of about 120 deaths.
Of those 120 deaths only 7 were deemed 'direct deaths'.

The biggest danger of a hurricane is actually after it has happened.
A lot of people let their guard down at that moment and it's precisely then that the vast majority of people die.

It depends on the storm. Most people who die in hurricanes drown. The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 killed 6,000 to 12,000 and the Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928 killed up to 2,500. Most of those drowned in storm surges. Hurricane Mitch killed almost 11,000 (with maybe another 11,000 missing), I think largely in inland flooding. People who ignore evacuation orders are really risking their lives.

It's Official now. Hurricane Issac

WTNT64 KNHC 281618

1120 AM CDT TUE AUG 28 2012



LOCATION...28.1N 88.6W


The real trouble begins after Isaac is gone

... With the economy still foundering, and the unemployment rate for most of the Gulf Coast region still above 8%, plenty of folks have no savings to pay for shelter or even to fill the gas tank for the drive inland. Those who must leave their jobs behind will have smaller paychecks to draw on when the credit card bills arrive at the end of the month. The longer they must stay away, the greater the financial setback they will face.

This storm looks to be churning up water in the general area of the Deepwater Horizon - anybody know if this is likely to bring old spilled oil to the surface and or shore?

tabby - Just a WAG but probably nothing visible. Much of the "giant oil plume" sitting on the bottom out in the GOM at the time was of such low concentration to not be visible to the naked. But volumetricly it added up to a very large volume.

Despite the power of a hurricane, the waters there are too deep for any disturbance from surface churning.

Louisiana Plans for Gulf Oil Dredged by Isaac’s Force

Tropical Storm Isaac, projected to become a hurricane with 100 mile-per-hour winds when it makes landfall, may dredge up as much as 1 million barrels of oil buried in sediment in the Gulf of Mexico since the BP Plc (BP/) spill two years ago, a Louisiana official said.

The state is adding about 50 experts to its hurricane response teams to identify new oil damage from the surge of sea water expected from the storm, said Garret Graves, chairman of Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Troops deployed as Hurricane Isaac targets New Orleans

"Citizens have to be prepared. I'm going to ask you to hunker down," Landrieu said, as hundreds of U.S. Army National Guard troops took up strategic positions around New Orleans.

Brandishing automatic assault rifles to ward off any threat of looting, the troops in military vehicles took up positions on mostly deserted streets. Their arrival came as driving rain and stiff winds began battering the city's iconic French Quarter and its boarded-up storefronts.

Earlier, the Army Corps of Engineers closed for the first time the massive new floodgate on the largest storm-surge barrier in the world, at Lake Borgne, east of New Orleans.

largest storm-surge barrier in the world.

26 feet high and 1.8 miles long

I'm trying to find it on Google Earth, anybody have coordinates?

I'm seeing massive new water control structures at the north end of the industrial canal, as well as others leading into Lake Ponchartrain.

Not finding anything 1.8 miles long.

Nevermind, Wikipedia to the rescue.
And further South:

A permanent storm surge barrier was constructed in the MRGO in 2009, and the channel has been closed to maritime shipping.

If you look at it on Google maps , then zoom out two or three steps, you will see the area pre-barrier.

30°0′20″N 89°54′5″W, according to Wikipedia:

Thanks, I was editing while you were responding.

I'm not sure about that being the "largest storm-surge barrier in the world". It might be the highest one, but the seawall in Galveston, Texas is much longer than 1.8 miles. They say that the top of the Galveston seawall features the longest continuous cement sidewalk in the world!

As of now, refiners have reduced output about 1,000,000 bpd of oil products per day. So far the biggest oil and/or oil product pipeline to be shut is the Capline Pipeline. That was shut Saturday evening and has an capacity to transport 1.2 million bpd of oil to Midwest refineries. It is not clear what, if any, impact the Capline shutdown has had on refiners further inland so far.

The largest US pipeline system for oil products, the Colonial Pipeline was still operating normally. They improved their ability to weather power interruptions after prior hurricanes:

Isaac to Test Power System Upgrades After Katrina’s Blackouts
By Julie Johnsson, Mike Lee and Mark Chediak - Aug 28, 2012 6:13 PM ET

Valero Energy Corp. said Tuesday it could reduce rates at its refinery in Memphis, Tenn., due to the closure of the Capline pipeline. "We could reduce rates on Memphis because of that, depending on how long it stays down," Valero spokesman Bill Day said.

The first waiver related to Hurricane Isaac was issued today by the EPA as a result of actual or potential transport fuel shortages in the affected region.

Quite typically a waiver is granted when gasoline supplies are limited that allows a blend of gasoline with a RVP (Reid Vapor Pressure) other than that normally used in that season.

Usually Summer-blend gasoline has a lower Reid vapor pressure, meaning it creates less vapor than winter-blend gasoline and is less likely to contribute to smog formation in higher temperatures. It is a more complicated refining process to produce gasoline with lower RVP. If faced with a shortage of low vapor pressure gasoline, individual States can and usually do request exemptions from the Environmental Protection Agency to use what gasoline is available - which will probably be a leftover 'winter blend'.

EPA grants Louisiana partial fuel waiver request

This waiver will enable Louisiana refineries in 14 parishes the latitude to utilize slightly higher Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) fuels from today until September 6 in order to assist with the shortages currently being experienced as a result of the evacuation due to Hurricane Isaac. Since the majority of parishes will be using the same type of gas, it will make it easier for fuel distributors and gas stations to keep gas at the pumps.

I'm unfortunately hearing lots of damage reports on local news channels as Isaac stalls. Not good :-(

The temporary stall and slow drift to the west was well predicted on many models but the NHC decided to downplay that scenario.

Plaquemines Parish President says many people trapped in homes and they cannot reach them. Flooding worse than Katrina in parts he says. He says it feels far worse than a Cat 1 to him.

Widespread power outages. Mayor Mitch Landrieu says 75% of city without power. Main pump stations though for city are all still operating he says and main city protection still intact.

7:30 am NOLA time. It's interesting listening to local radio on the web and getting a peoples-eye view as they phone in. I'm listening to WWL. The worst problem seems to be power outages.

Man says this is nothing compared to Katrina.

Man phones in and says being outside is like someone shooting you in the face with a pressure washer.

Woman says beautiful tree that survived Katrina is down, uprooted.

Meteorologist says winds are tropical storm strength. Expected to dump up to 20" of rain in certain areas.

President Randolph of Lefourche parish reports: Eye is crossing parish and has become stationary [bad news -- flooding]. 2/3 of parish is without power and powerlines are down in the streets. 80 mph sustained winds despite Isaac being overland for some hours. Curfew in parish extended.

Mayor Mitch Landreau says levees are holding and pumps are operating. Localised street flooding. Problem is that storm is staying put, shifting left and right, and not moving on. Causes more flooding. Winds too high to fix power outages. People can't watch TV and get information. Be careful if you light fires indoors to cook with. There's already been one house fire. And "knuckleheads" playing outside in the storm should stop it. They will endanger personnel who will be expected to rescue them.

Today is the anniversary of Katrina. They remember the 1600 brothers and sisters they lost. President and Homeland Security are all on board and alert and offering to help. Parish presidents are reporting problems and the news media is assuming the whole of New Orleans is affected. No. Any damage is local. The system that the American people paid to upgrade is working as it was designed to do. There are no levee breaks or people on rooftops. Pumps are coping for now and there is no internal flooding.

There is a local levee break in Plaquemines parish, apparently.

2800 law enforcement personnel are out and working. 1000 National Guardsmen. 1300 NOPD officers. Plus others. The city is secure. Citizens should please cooperate and work together. There is no plan for a curfew now. But people must be patient. Hunker down, stay inside and don't go outside and fool around as apparently some kids are doing. When the storm clears leave the streets clear for emergency personnel and repair crews. Don't clog the place up sight-seeing. -- website for updates.

(Tried to post earlier but TOD was down for maintenance.)

Yes, we had some serious technical difficulties this morning. Sorry about that.

"Problem is that storm is staying put, shifting left and right, and not moving on."

Kind of like stepping on a bug,, grind it in real good to make sure before moving along.

Levee Breeched or over-toped in Plaquemines. Deputies stranded on top of failing levee.

This is way out on the delta in mandatory evacuation area.

Levee over-topped Braithwaite Ferry

Rescues by boat taking place now.

I talked to Alan Drake this morning. He is fine, lost power around 3:00 A.M. He pointed out that the good news is that if another hurricane follows along the same path as Isaac, a good deal of the heat in the Gulf has already been dissipated.

thanks for the update

Hurricane Isaac Makes Landfall as New Orleans Hunkers Down

Hurricane Isaac pounded New Orleans and the northern Gulf Coast, delivering gale-force winds, heavy rain and the promise of flooding across an area from Louisiana’s southern coast to the Florida Panhandle.

...Isaac has stopped 93 percent of U.S. oil production in the Gulf of Mexico and 67 percent of natural-gas output, and forced evacuations from 503 production platforms and 49 rigs, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said yesterday. Six Louisiana refineries were shut.

President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Louisiana and Mississippi. He said federal response teams are ready.

Oh Crap!

A man reports there is sewage in the street. An official phones in and says they had the problem with Gustav also. There are 500 sewage lift stations (NOT pump stations he is at pains to point out) and most of them don't have backup power because of budget limits.

If you have sewage backing up, go into the garden and pop the sewage cap. Rather flood the garden with sewage than the house. And use the toilet sparingly.

aardy - Don't worry about the folks in Nawlins. They got use to that smell (and worse) long ago by walking down Bourbon Street on warm Sunday morniongs on the way to get a cup at Cafe du Monde. LOL.

Dam nears collapse due to Isaac; thousands reportedly evacuating

Up to 50,000 people in Louisiana's Tangipahoa Parish were ordered to evacuate Thursday morning when water from Tropical Storm Isaac threatened to overwhelm a dam across the state line in Mississippi.

Residents were given just 90 minutes to leave, parish spokesman Jeff McKneely told NBC affiliate WDSU-TV.

The parish said "imminent failure" of the dam was expected.

The dam at Lake Tangipahoa, better known as Percy Quin State Park, has been damaged by the torrential rains from Hurricane Isaac. As of about 20 minutes ago, a National Guard helicopter was maintaining position over the dam to monitor its integrity.

Asked where the evacuees would be transported, Burgess told WWL, “We don’t know yet. I just got to get them out away from the river.”

Burgess says residents - between 50,000 and 60,000 of them - have a little less than an hour to clear out. The evacuation order is aimed at residents along the Tangipahoa River, from Kentwood to Robert, Louisiana.

Several local stations now have crews near the dam. They seemed a little more confident that they can avoid catastrophe at recent press conference but no guarantees. Controlled release taking place.

Approx 50% of Louisiana now without power including most of New Orleans itself. Very extensive flooding in a number of areas outside the upgraded Federal levee system.

Been watching the local news channels online. It's a real mess in some places.

Water release continues at Mississippi dam threatened by Isaac, Monday, September 03, 2012, 2:30 PM

Mississippi officials said Monday that they have released enough water from a 700-acre lake swollen with rain from Hurricane Isaac to bring it to normal pool levels. James MacLellan, dam safety director with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, sad officials will drop Lake Tangipahoa at Percy Quin State Park another five feet this week.

MacLellan said the dam is stable. He said plans are to drain the lake and bring the dam up to standards.

On Saturday, the mandatory evacuation of areas within a half-mile of the Tangipahoa River in Tangipahoa Parish, La., was lifted by local officials

Oil, Gas Companies Assess Damage in Isaac's Wake

Some problems have emerged, however. Phillips 66 said it found some flooding at its 247,000-barrel-a-day refinery in Belle Chasse, La., in Plaquemines Parish, the area that suffered the initial brunt of the hurricane. "Refinery personnel are working to prevent more flooding and to pump water out of the flooded areas," the company said.

The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, where giant tankers unload overseas crude oil, expected to resume delivering oil Thursday evening from its Clovelly onshore facility, spokeswoman Barb Hestermann said. LOOP had restarted deliveries Wednesday night from its St. James, La., facility.

One odd thing about hurricanes: occasional situations that don’t fit the overall pattern. My producing well, just 15 miles south of Baton Rouge, which is reported to have gotten 12” to 15” of rain, was not only undamaged but had no standing water on the location. I was concerned we might have floating oil tanks. In fact, from the photos my hand sent me it doesn’t even look like it hardly rained there. But that the nature of those rain bands. I remember once sitting not very far from the eye when, after a rain band had past, I could see small patches of blue before the next band came swopping in.