Harvey throws a wrench into U.S. energy engine

Interstate highway 45 is submerged from the effects of Hurricane Harvey seen during widespread flooding in Houston, Texas, U.S. August 27, 2017.

By Ernest Scheyder and Erwin Seba

HOUSTON (Reuters) – A hurricane in the heart of the U.S. energy industry is set to curtail near-record U.S. oil production for several weeks, with the impact expected to reverberate throughout the country and across international energy markets.

Harvey hit the Texas shore as a fierce Category 4 hurricane, causing massive flooding that has knocked out 11 percent of U.S. refining capacity, a quarter of oil production from the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, and closed ports all along the Texas coast.

Gasoline futures jumped as much as 7 percent to their highest level in more than two years in early Monday trading in Asia as traders took stock of the storm’s impact.

The outages will limit the availability of U.S. crude, gasoline and other refined products for global consumers and further push up prices, analysts said.

Damage assessments could take days to weeks to complete, and the storm continues to drop unprecedented levels of rain as it lingers west of Houston, home to oil, gas, pipeline and chemical plants. And restarts are dangerous periods, as fires and explosions can occur.

So far, the federal government has not announced if it will release barrels of oil or refined products from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), which holds nearly 680 million barrels of oil.

The SPR was established in the 1970s to prevent supply shocks in the wake of an embargo imposed by several members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

“This is not like anything we have ever seen before,” said Bruce Jefferis, chief executive of Aon Energy, a risk consulting practice. It is too soon to gauge the full extent of Harvey’s damage to the region’s energy infrastructure, he said.

More than 30 inches (76 cm) fell in the Houston area in 48 hours and a lot more rain is forecast, according to the National Weather Service.

The storm was felt from coastal ports to inland oil and gas wells. Oil producers in the Eagle Ford shale region of south Texas have halted some operations.

At least four marine terminals in the Corpus Christi area, an export hub for energy deliveries to Latin America and Asia, remained closed due to the storm.

“We just simply don’t know yet the damage all this rain will have on Houston’s energy infrastructure,” said Andrew Lipow, president of energy consultancy Lipow Oil Associates LLC.

Texas refineries could be offline for up to a month if their storm-drainage pumps become submerged, he said.

As the storm churned towards Texas on Friday, U.S. gasoline futures rose to their highest level in three years for this time of year. Those gains came even before several large Houston area refiners, including Exxon Mobil Corp, halted some operations.

Exxon closed the second largest U.S. refinery, its 560,500 barrel-per-day (bpd) refinery in Baytown, Texas, complex because of flooding. Royal Dutch Shell  also halted operations at its 325,700-bpd Deer Park, Texas, refinery. The refinery may be shut for the week, it said.

Flooding on highways between Houston and Texas City nearer to the coast led Marathon Petroleum Corp to cut back gasoline production at the company’s 459,000-bpd Galveston Bay Refinery in Texas City, said sources familiar with plant operations.

Marathon Petroleum  employees were unable to drive to work and conditions at the plant forced the company to reduce gasoline output, said industry sources. Marathon spokesman Jamal Kheiry declined to discuss plant operations.

Not every plant in the region was hit. Operations were stable at the largest U.S. crude refinery, Motiva Enterprises’ 603,000-bpd Port Arthur plant, the company said.

Motiva double-staffed the refinery’s crew ahead of the storm, as did Total SA  at the company’s 225,500-bpd Port Arthur refinery, said sources familiar with plant operations.

Coastal refineries in Texas account for one-quarter of the U.S. crude oil refining capacity. All of those refineries have been impacted by Harvey since Thursday when refineries in Corpus Christi, Texas, shut in production ahead of the storm’s landfall on Friday.

Colonial Pipeline, the largest mover of gasoline, diesel and other refined products in the United States, said its operations had not been affected by Harvey. Any disruptions to the conduit would send prices across the U.S. Southeast and Northeast soaring. Traders have been keeping a close eye on whether there will be an outage at the pipeline.

Citgo Petroleum Corp and Flint Hills Resources , two of the refiners that closed last week as the storm approached, did not provide updates about the status of their Corpus Christi refineries on Sunday.

 

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Additional reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar in New York; Editing by Gary McWilliams and Sandra Maler)

 

Tropical storm Harvey heads for Texas, may become hurricane

Tropical storm Harvey heads for Texas, may become hurricane

(Reuters) – The Texas Gulf Coast was getting ready for the tropical storm Harvey to make landfall by Friday, bringing with it strong winds, heavy flooding and torrential rains.

Hurricane, tropical storm and storm surge watches were in effect for counties on the eastern coast of Texas as the storm moved across the Gulf of Mexico, where it may strengthen into a hurricane.

Winds up to 75 mph (120 kmh) and 15 inches of rain (40 cm) were forecast, according to the National Weather Service.

“Now is the time to check your emergency plan and take necessary actions to secure your home or business. Deliberate efforts should be under way to protect life and property,” the weather service said in an statement early on Thursday.

By early Thursday, Harvey was about 370 miles (600 km) southeast of Port Mansfield, Texas, with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

The storm may strengthen into a hurricane by the time it makes landfall near Corpus Christi on Friday, the National Weather Service said.

Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster on Wednesday for 30 counties, authorizing the use of state resources to prepare for the storm. Harvey “poses a threat of imminent disaster, including severe flooding, storm surge and damaging winds”, Abbott’s statement said.

Cities and counties along the state’s coastal region distributed sandbags to residents as some businesses boarded up windows. Coastal residents flocked to grocery stores to stock up on water and other supplies, local media reported.

Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi issued a mandatory evacuation to all students who live on campus and canceled events.

Royal Dutch Shell, Anadarko Petroleum and Exxon Mobil announced on Wednesday they were curbing some oil and gas output at facilities in the Gulf of Mexico ahead of the storm.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Alison Williams)

More than 30 injured after tornado hits in Tulsa

Tornado damage from overnight storm in Tulsa 8-7-17

(Reuters) – More than 30 people were injured and dozens of buildings damaged when a tornado hit Tulsa early on Sunday, causing power outages to about 17,000 customers after powerful winds snapped utility poles and downed trees in the Oklahoma city, officials said.

The tornado flipped cars, ripped apart buildings and blew windows out of a high-rise building, images from local TV broadcaster KTUL showed.

Oklahoma emergency officials told local media there were no deaths from the tornado classified by the U.S. National Weather Service as an EF-2 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, meaning it had winds of about 125 miles per hour (200 kph).

Tornadoes coming in August and hitting at night are rare for Tulsa, the service said.

“The tornado that occurred did so suddenly and unexpectedly,” Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said in a Facebook post.

The Public Service Company of Oklahoma said as of Sunday afternoon, it had restored power to more than 11,000 customers.

 

 

 

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Richard Chang)

 

California battling several large wildfires that forced out residents

The full moon rises over flames of the Alamo fire on a hilltop off Highway 166 east of Santa Maria, California, July 7, 2017. Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Dept/Handout via REUTERS

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – More than 7,000 firefighters battled 13 large wildfires in California on Tuesday as the state entered its peak fire season with hot and dry conditions threatening to spread flames that already have forced thousands of people from their homes.

The biggest evacuation was in Northern California’s Butte County, where the 5,800-acre (2,350-hectare) Wall Fire, which began on Friday, displaced about 4,000 people, officials said.

“We’re certainly getting to where we’re at the peak of fire season conditions,” Cal-Fire Chief Ken Pimlott said in an interview with Capital Public Radio on Tuesday.

In the U.S. West, where more than 50 uncontained large fires are burning, temperatures in many locations will top 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) this week with only scattered showers to possibly quell some flames, said meteorologist Brian Hurley of the National Weather Service.

Some people displaced by the Wall Fire were allowed to return to their houses on Tuesday, as firefighters held containment lines around 45 percent of the blaze, compared to 35 percent the day before.

In Santa Barbara County along California’s central coast, about 200 people were under evacuation orders because of the Alamo Fire, named after a creek near where it started on Thursday, said Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Kelly Hoover.

Remnants of a home burned by the Wall Fire are pictured near Oroville, California, July 10, 2017. REUTERS/David Ryder

Remnants of a home burned by the Wall Fire are pictured near Oroville, California, July 10, 2017. REUTERS/David Ryder

The blaze, which has spread to nearly 29,000 acres (11,736 hectares) to rank as the state’s largest, is 45 percent contained, up from 20 percent on Monday evening.

A blaze north of Bangor, more than 100 miles (161 km) northeast of San Francisco, has charred about 5,800 acres (2,347 hectares) and destroyed at least 36 houses.

Another fire about 40 miles (64 km) to the southeast near Lake Cachuma forced the evacuation of thousands of campers, including some who left behind their trailers in a rush, and dozens of residents when it broke out on Saturday, officials said. It was 25 percent contained on Tuesday after burning more than 10,000 acres (4,047 hectares).

A fire on the border between California and Nevada closed a 20-mile (32-km) stretch of Interstate 80 on Tuesday, said Deanna Shoopman, a spokeswoman for California Department of Transportation.

So far this year, more than twice as much land mass in California has been charred by fires compared to the same time last year, said Heather Williams, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Fires in the western Canadian province of British Columbia have forced 14,000 people from their homes and disrupted logging and mining operations.

(Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York and Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Toni Reinhold and Bill Trott)

Wildfire in California canyons spreads overnight

Smoke is illuminated by the Whittier wildfire near Santa Ynez, California, U.S. July 8, 2017. Picture taken July 8, 2017.

(Reuters) – A fast-moving wildfire burned overnight through thousands more acres of steep terrain near California’s central coast, officials said on Sunday, as high temperatures and parched vegetation fueled dozens of blazes in the U.S. West and Southwest.

The Alamo Fire has engulfed about 23,900 acres in the area of the border between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, a few miles from the city of Santa Maria, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire for short. That was up from 19,000 acres on Saturday evening.

Youths are evacuated by sheriff's deputies from a campground near the Whittier wildfire near Santa Ynez, California,

Youths are evacuated by sheriff’s deputies from a campground near the Whittier wildfire near Santa Ynez, California, U.S. July 9, 2017. Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office/Handout via REUTERS.

About 15 percent of the fire had been contained by Sunday evening, Cal Fire tweeted. The fire has so far destroyed one structure and was threatening more than 130 others, Cal Fire said.

On Saturday, hundreds of people were ordered to evacuate the remote canyons affected by the fire. No injuries have been reported. Hundreds of firefighters were trying to stop the fire from reaching wineries to the south and electric transmission lines to the southeast, Santa Barbara County officials said.

The Alamo Fire was one of about 50 large uncontained fires burning in western states, the National Weather Service said on Sunday morning.

Smoke rises from the Alamo fire near Santa Maria, California, U.S. in this July 8, 2017

Smoke rises from the Alamo fire near Santa Maria, California, U.S. in this July 8, 2017 handout photo obtained by Reuters July 9, 2017. San Luis Obispo Fire Department/Handout via REUTERS.

A wave of scorching weather has hit California in recent days. On Saturday, a fire at an electrical power station in Los Angeles left 140,000 residents without power, after a second straight day marked by temperatures that exceeded 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 Celsius).

 

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen and Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Chris Reese)

 

Four die from heat in sweltering U.S. Southwest: reports

FILE PHOTO: A sign warns of extreme heat as tourists enter Death Valley National Park in California June 29, 2013. REUTERS/Steve Marcus/File Photo

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Four people, including a homeless person and two hikers, have died from the record-breaking heat in the U.S. Southwest, media reports said, where triple-digit temperatures have driven residents indoors and canceled airline flights.

The first two fatalities recorded in the three-day heatwave took place on Monday in Santa Clara County, California, south of San Francisco, and included a homeless person found in a car, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

The victims were identified only as a 72-year-old man and an 87-year-old woman.

“It is tragic when someone dies of hyperthermia since in most every case it could have been prevented,” Dr. Michelle Jorden of the Santa Clara County Coroner’s Office told the newspaper.

“Hyperthermia and heat stress happen when a body’s heat-regulation system cannot handle the heat. It can happen to anyone, which is why it is so important to be in a cool location, drink plenty of water and take a cool bath or shower if you are getting too hot,” Jorden said.

The extreme heat, brought on by a high-pressure system parked over the Four Corners region where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona meet, has boosted temperatures well above normal across much of the Southwest.

The bodies of a 57-year-old father and his 21-year-old son from Corpus Christi, Texas, were found earlier this week in the Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, where they were hiking, media reported.

New Mexico State Police told an NBC affiliate in New Mexico that the scorching temperatures, which were over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 degrees Celsius), contributed to the deaths of the men.

The National Weather Service and local authorities issued heat advisories and warnings, urging residents to stay indoors and to drink plenty of water if they were outdoors. Power grid operators encouraged customers to use electricity sparingly to avoid a shutdown or blackout.

The sizzling weather forced the cancellation of more than 20 flights at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and delays at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. Aviation experts say the hotter, thinner air saps power from airline engines.

The heat can also create issues for ground crews, where pavement temperatures can reach more than 150 degrees F (66 C), a life-threatening condition if workers are exposed to it too long.

Temperatures reached 127 F (52.8 C) in California’s Death Valley at the peak of the heat wave on Tuesday afternoon but cooler weather was expected across the region by the end of the week.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb and Brendan O’Brien; Editing by Leslie Adler and Paul Tait)

Rain threatens U.S. Midwest as flooding force hundreds from homes

Long Creek Bridge on 86 highway, flooding Photo By Austin Metcalf

(Reuters) – Unrelenting rain will drench the already saturated U.S. Midwest on Thursday and Friday, forecasters said, after floods in the region killed at least five people and forced residents in vulnerable areas to evacuate their flooded communities.

Parts of Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Indiana and Oklahoma could see as much as an additional 4 inches (10 cm) of rain as a slow-moving system is expected to hover over the region for at least one more day, the National Weather Service said in flood warnings and watches.

“The flooding in the middle part of the county has been unbelievable over the last couple of days … and we have more rain on the way, if you can believe that,” Weather.com meteorologist Ari Sarsalari said during his forecast on Wednesday night.

The National Weather Service issued flash flood warnings and watches along waterways from eastern Texas north through Indiana and into northwestern Ohio as forecasters expected most of the rivers across the U.S. Midwest to crest over the weekend.

Branson Landing in Branson, Missouri. Photo by Austin Metcalf

Branson Landing in Branson, Missouri.
Photo by Austin Metcalf

The rain comes after five people were killed in flooding in Missouri, the last two of them swept from their cars on Monday and Tuesday, after a storm dumped almost 12 inches (30 cm) of rain in the region over the weekend, the National Weather Service said.

Schools throughout the Midwest canceled classes on Thursday as dozens of roadways and parts of interstate highways remained under water. Amtrak also suspended service in Missouri until at least Saturday, it said in a statement.

The heavy rains have caused levees to fail or to be breached along the Missouri, Mississippi and Ohio rivers and their tributaries over the last few days.

Hundreds of people in places like Eureka, Missouri and Pocahontas, Arkansas have heeded evacuation orders and advisories after building walls of sandbags to protect their homes and businesses from the rising waters.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Torrential rains, damaging winds on tap for U.S. midsection

Stormy weather Courtesy of Pixabay

(Reuters) – A dangerous storm front will thrash the U.S. midsection over the weekend with torrential rainfall, damaging winds and large hail that will leave behind the threat of flooding throughout the region, the National Weather Service warned.

On Friday night, thunderstorms had already clobbered several communities in the southern Midwest with winds that took down trees and power lines while a reported rain-wrapped tornado in Lawrence, Illinois damaged a house, destroyed a structure and caused power outages, the weather service said.

On Saturday, a large swath of the region – from northern Texas up through Michigan – can expect torrential downpours that will produce 7 inches (18 cm) of rain, large hail and damaging wind gusts of 60 miles (95 km) per hour, the weather service predicted.

“The widespread and very heavy rain may produce life threatening flash flooding,” the weather service said in an advisory.

Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma told travelers on Twitter to “expect delays” and to check their flight with their airline as severe weather moves through the area.

The region has already received about 400 percent or more of normal moisture in the last week and will be highly sensitive to additional rainfall, the service said.

Evacuations could be necessary as areas along swollen waterways could see widespread flooding as the weather service issued flood warnings and watches for the weekend and into next week.

“Be very careful if out in the flooding rain. Many road closures. Never drive through a flooded road,” tweeted Ben Pine, a meteorologist for an ABC affiliate in Louisville, Kentucky.

To the west, a winter storm was expected to dump as much as a foot of wet, heavy snow (30 cm) in parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas and Texas, the National Weather Service said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Toby Chopra)

U.S. Southeast, Midwest face threat of severe storms, potential tornadoes

Stock photo of a thunderstorm that could produce tornadoes. Courtesy of Pixabay

(Reuters) – A dangerous weather system packing severe thunderstorms was expected to roll through the U.S. Southeast and parts of the Midwest on Wednesday, bringing with it the threat of tornadoes, forecasters said.

The region faced the threat of supercells developing throughout the day as very large hail and damaging straight-line wind appear to be likely, the National Weather Service said in an advisory.

At about 5:30 a.m. local time, a thunderstorm was moving northeast of Anniston, Alabama, at 55 miles (89 km) per hour, bringing with it hail the size of golf balls and 60 mile (98 km) per hour wind gusts, the Weather Service reported.

“For your protection move to an interior room on the lowest floor of a building,” the National Weather Service warned in an advisory.

Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina faced a heightened chance of tornadoes and potential flash flooding during the day.

The 5.7 million people who live in the Atlanta metro area should expect as much as 2-1/2 inches (6 cm) of rain throughout the day and into the evening, the service said.

Dozens of school districts in Alabama and Georgia canceled classes while Alabama Governor Robert Bentley issued a state of emergency ahead of the storm front.

“Alabama is no stranger to the impact severe weather can have on communities and the devastation that can occur when the weather takes a turn for the worse,” Bentley said in a statement.

The severe weather comes days after a powerful storm system in the southeastern U.S. killed four people, including a woman who was swept away by flood waters while she called 911.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Four dead, about 200,000 without power after Texas, Oklahoma storms

Stock photo of a thunderstorm that could produce tornadoes. Courtesy of Pixabay

By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – Four people were killed and nearly 200,000 customers were without electric power on Wednesday morning after overnight storms pounded Texas and Oklahoma, bringing tornadoes, torrential rain and hail to large parts of the states.

Three of those killed were storm chasers trying to track tornadoes in the Texas Panhandle region. They died after their cars slammed into each other near Spur on Tuesday night, police said.

In Oklahoma, a truck driver was killed near El Reno in a roll-over crash likely caused by high winds, police said.

There were 15 reports of tornadoes from the storms in Texas, with most of the twisters in the Panhandle and western parts of the state, the National Weather Service said. Hail, some as large as baseballs, pounded Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas overnight causing damage to cars.

The storm system weakened on Wednesday and was forecast to hit the Houston area.

The system took a heavy toll on utilities in North Texas, where provider Oncor said about 150,000 of its customers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area were without power on Wednesday morning. There were also tens of thousands of other customers in Texas and Oklahoma without power, various utilities reported.

The storms did not cause any major delays in flights through Dallas and Houston, two of the nation’s busiest air hubs, tracking service FlightAware.com reported.

But it did cause a number of school closures in North Texas where schools were without electricity. Elementary schools in Dallas and Tarrant County, home to Fort Worth, were closed. This caused delays for students taking an annual achievement test in the state known as STAAR, or the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness.

“Storms throughout Texas yesterday and today? Proof that God doesn’t like #STAAR either! #imateacher,” Twitter user @kekis26 wrote on the social media site.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Additional reporting by Lisa Maria Garza in Dallas; Editing by Andrea Ricci)