Changes since Katrina made post-Harvey recovery better, speakers say

A wide range of changes since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 clearly improved the recovery since Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey tore through Texas and Louisiana where 25% of the nation’s refining capacity is located, two experts agreed in a teleconference sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute on the 7th September.


“Harvey hit all the sectors, from the production side, where as much as 400,000 b/d was offline, to refineries and gas processing operations,” said Guy Caruso, who led the US Energy Information Administration from July 2002 to September 2008. “Ports and terminals are mostly open, with some restrictions. That’s more important more than it was for Katrina, because the US is now a major exporter of crude oil and products.


There is also more rail capacity now for transporting not just crude but also methanol, necessary for blending, to refineries, he told reporters during the teleconference.


“Downstream, pipelines are critically important. Colonial Pipeline is now almost back to full capacity, as is the Explorer Pipeline, which moves products up to Tulsa,” said Mr Caruso, who now is a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Energy and National Security Program.


Electricity is the common denominator for all energy sectors during a weather emergency, Mr Caruso said. “There have been fewer outages during Harvey than there was for Katrina, as well as less wind damage,” Caruso said. Hurricane Irma, which was expected to make landfall in Florida on the 9th September, could have a different impact because it poses great risks to product transportation there that largely is by barges and trucks, he added.


Civilisation’s life-blood

Government response also have continued to improve, noted Robert McNally, a fellow at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy who was the top White House international and domestic energy advisory from 2001 to 2003 during George W. Bush’s first term.


“The federal government has taken oil very seriously since World War I. It understands it’s the life-blood of modern civilisation, and acts accordingly. In a crisis, we have to attend to the quick restoration of supplies and transportation. This came surprisingly quickly after Harvey,” he said.


The US Department of Energy authorised three releases of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to replace supplies to refiners that the storm cut off, Mr Caruso said. The US Environmental Protection Agency temporarily lifted volatility control requirements, “with about 38 states having some kind of waiver,” he said.


During Katrina, DOE asked the International Energy Agency in Paris to activate its sharing system, particularly for products, he recalled. “We haven’t heard any reports of the current administration doing that. My impression is that the people managing this at DOE believe the recovery is going fairly smoothly, and that the current releases are doing the job,” he said


“The industry, along with the federal and state governments, are going to move heaven and earth to make sure the supply system can get the gasoline to communities,” said Mr McNally. “At some point, motorists’ behaviour will matter so there isn’t hording and the public has access to supplies.”


“We definitely were better prepared. We appreciated the need to deal with all of the energy aspects which we identified during Katrina, but also communication between state and federal authorities seems to have gone better this time,” said Mr Caruso.


API President Jack Gerard, who hosted the teleconference, said as it concluded that the nation’s largest oil and gas association has assembled an online hurricane preparedness booklet which shows how the industry’s various segments are prepared to respond.