Nation's Largest Refinery Scales Back Output as Harvey Rages

Saul Bowman
September 2, 2017

Even before Motiva's announcement, 10 refineries in Texas including the nation's second-largest, run by Exxon Mobil, had closed since Harvey came ashore as a hurricane on Friday night.

The company said in the filings that a floating roof covering a tank at ExxonMobil's Baytown oil refinery sank in heavy rains, dipping below the surface of oil or other material stored there and causing unusually high emissions, especially of volatile organic compounds, a category of regulated chemicals.

The company did not say what was in the tank.

The ExxonMobil refinery in Baytown, Tex., in 2008.

The company also reportedly filed a report with the National Response Center disclosing that the Baytown refinery would release about 15 pounds of benzene, a known carcinogen, into the air. Toluene, a solvent, is less toxic. "Provisions have been made to ensure emergency responders and other essential service providers requesting fuel are given priority".

Oil giant Exxon Mobil is among the companies to report incidents of emissions released at its refineries as a result of the hurricane which ransacked coastal parts of Texas and caused widespread flooding in the country's fourth biggest city, Houston.

The disclosures highlight the danger posed by flooding in a refinery-rich section of the United States coast that stretches from Corpus Christi, Texas, to Louisiana.

Flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey has shut almost a fifth of US oil-refining capacity, triggering worries about a gasoline supply crunch as the slow-moving tempest lumbers through the heart of America's petrochemicals industry.

Gasoline futures on Tuesday rose US$0.06, or 4.1 percent, to US$1.78 per gallon in trading. Retail prices have gained more slowly - up 4 cents in the last week to $2.38 a gallon, according to auto club AAA.

In Texas, Royal Dutch Shell closed its 360,000-bpd Deer Park refinery, and sources tell Reuters that the biggest refinery in the USA -the 603,000-bpd Port Arthur refinery-was shutting down on Tuesday, due to flooding. Motiva, which is owned by Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil company of Saudi Arabia, said it was dealing with restrictions in the flow of crude oil coming in and products like gasoline going out through pipelines and ports.

An ExxonMobil spokeswoman said the company would "conduct an assessment to determine the impact of the storm once it is safe to do so".

The Colonial Pipeline operator on Tuesday said the reduction was due to limited supply from refiners around Houston and storm damage to its facilities in several southeast Texas locations.

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