Regulators issue standards to prevent another Texas grid freeze

By Timothy Gardner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. and North American energy regulators on Thursday issued recommendations and mandatory electric reliability standards for utilities they hope will prevent a repeat of February’s deadly power outages in Texas during a deep freeze.

The freeze left 4.5 million without power over several days in the state, killing more than 100 people.

“I cannot, and will not allow this to become yet another report that serves no purpose other than to gather dust on the shelf,” Rich Glick, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) said about the preliminary recommendations and standards the regulators expect to finalize in November.

FERC and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) released the recommendations that include revisions of mandatory reliability standards. The revisions require power utilities to identify and protect cold-weather critical components, build new or retrofit existing units to operate at specific conditions based on extreme temperature and weather data, and develop corrective plans for those that suffer freeze-related outages.

FERC does not have jurisdiction over the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the operator of the Texas grid. But Jim Robb, president and CEO of NERC, said his organization has jurisdiction in Texas over reliability matters.

In 2011, FERC probed ways to protect the Texas grid from power outages after a cold snap that was milder than the most recent one. Its recommendations included winterization of natural gas and other installations. Texas authorities never implemented those recommendations, leaving its grid vulnerable.

Texas regulators have been working on their own ways to protect the grid from extreme weather.

“The work that the team has done here reflects things that would be additive to what Texas has been working on and not in conflict with,” Robb told reporters.

ERCOT and the Texas Public Utilities Commission, which regulates the state’s grid, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; additional reporting by Scott Disavino; Editing by David Gregorio)

More grain terminals found damaged by Ida, exports may stall for weeks

By Karl Plume and PJ Huffstutter

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Grain shippers on the U.S. Gulf Coast reported more damage from Hurricane Ida to their terminals on Wednesday as Cargill Inc confirmed damage to a second facility, while power outages across southern Louisiana kept all others shuttered.

Global grains trader Cargill Inc said its Westwego, Louisiana, terminal was damaged by Hurricane Ida, days after confirming more extensive damage at its only other Louisiana grain export facility located in Reserve.

Hurricane Ida, which roared ashore on Sunday, has disrupted grain and soybean shipments from the Gulf Coast, which accounts for about 60% of U.S. exports, at a time when global supplies are tight and demand is strong from China.

Emergency authorities were still surveying the destruction, as numerous barges and boats were sunk in the lower Mississippi River while other debris has obstructed the navigation channel, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

The major shipping waterway remains closed to vessel traffic from the Louisiana-Mississippi border to the Gulf of Mexico, shipping sources said.

Mike Strain, commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, saw scores of barges and at least five ships grounded during a flyover of the river.

He said the Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard anticipate getting the upper Mississippi, from Baton Rouge on northward, “opened up by later today so we can start moving ships.”

The Army Corps of Engineers did not immediately respond to request for comment.

On the lower Mississippi, authorities aim to reopen the section from Nine Mile Point and down in seven days, Strain said.

“There are still transmission lines in the river, and those need to be removed before there can be safe passage,” Strain said. He said low water levels were making it harder to get stuck ships and barges moving again.

Cargill is still assessing the extent of the damage and does not yet know how soon its grain loading and shipping operations at the busiest U.S. grains port may resume, Cargill spokeswoman April Nelson said.

Rival exporter CHS Inc is diverting its export shipments scheduled through the next month through its Pacific Northwest terminal as the hurricane knocked out a transmission line that powers its lone Gulf Coast facility, the company said.

Other shippers, including Bunge Ltd and Archer-Daniels-Midland Co are still assessing damage to their locations, although all are still without power, the companies said.

Power may not be restored for weeks.

(Reporting by Karl Plume and P.J. Huffstutter in Chicago; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio)

After Ida, US energy pipelines off line, damage being assessed

By Liz Hampton

(Reuters) -Oil and gas pipeline operators on Monday checked for damage after Hurricane Ida hit major energy hubs as a Category 4 storm on Sunday and caused widespread power outages.

Enbridge said it was mobilizing crews to assess its facilities and had declared it was temporarily suspending some contacts under force majeure on two offshore pipelines, according to the company and shipper notices.

Its pipelines were not operating because offshore oil and gas production remained halted at the platforms it services, a spokesperson said.

“Production remains shut in to our offshore facilities; our onshore assets are operating,” the spokesperson said.

The force majeure contract suspensions were in effect for its Nautilus Pipeline and Mississippi Canyon Gas Pipeline, according to shipper notices.

“Enbridge is in the process of reviewing the status of its employees in the areas impacted by Hurricane Ida. There is currently no ETA on getting employees back out to inspect facilities,” the notices said.

Around 95% of U.S. Gulf of Mexico oil production and 94% of its natural gas production remained out of commission on Monday, according to offshore regulator the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. Refineries along the Gulf Coast also cut or halted operations.

Energy Transfer said it was conducting post-hurricane assessments at its Stingray Pipeline and Sea Robin assets, which bring natural gas from the U.S. Gulf of Mexico to hubs in Louisiana, according to a shipper notice.

“Stingray will not be accepting nominations from any location, and operators are required to remain shut in until Stingray has given clearance of our flow,” the company said in a notice to shippers.

Sea Robin, which feeds a compressor station in Erath, Louisiana, posted a similar notice to shippers, requesting that they shut in to allow for post-hurricane assessments.

Enterprise Products Partners on Monday said assessments were continuing at its facilities.

(Reporting by Liz Hampton in Denver; editing by Barbara Lewis)

Hurricane Grace strengthens, bears down on Mexico’s Gulf coast

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Hurricane Grace gathered strength as it barreled towards Mexico’s Gulf coast on Friday morning, threatening to lash the oil-producing state of Veracruz and central Mexico with strong winds and heavy rains.

Grace, a Category 1 Hurricane, is forecast to strengthen further before it plows into the coast of Veracruz late on Friday or in the early hours of Saturday, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

It should then weaken rapidly as it dissipates over land during the weekend, the Miami-based NHC said.

Veracruz and its waters are home to several oil installations including Petroleos Mexicanos’ Lazaro Cardenas refinery in Minatitlan in the south of the state. Current forecasts showed Grace expected to hit Veracruz well to the north of the city.

Through Sunday, the NHC said Grace would dump 6-12 inches (15-30 cm) of rain over large swathes of eastern and central Mexico, and up to 18 inches in some areas. The heavy rainfall would likely cause areas of flash and urban flooding, it added.

“We ask the population to be very alert,” Laura Velazquez, head of Mexico’s civil protection authority, told a regular news conference with President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Grace pounded Mexico’s Caribbean coast on Thursday, downing trees and causing power outages for nearly 700,000 people, but without causing loss of life, authorities said. Earlier in the week, it doused Jamaica and Haiti with torrential rain.

By Friday morning, Grace was about 185 miles (298 kilometers) east-northeast of the city of Veracruz, blowing maximum sustained winds of 85 miles per hour (137 km per hour), and moving west at 15 mph (24 kph), the NHC said.

(Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Storm Grace pounds Mexico’s Caribbean coast with heavy rain

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -Hurricane Grace weakened into a tropical storm after passing the Mexican beach resort of Tulum on Thursday, but was expected to regain strength again and cause flooding as it churns across the country’s southeast.

The storm made landfall on the Yucatan peninsula early Thursday as a Category 1 hurricane. Social media images showed downed street signs and palm trees flailing in the wind near Tulum and authorities reported some floods, power outages and toppled trees.

Grace was now heading west and was expected to hit the coast of Veracruz state as a hurricane late on Friday, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. There were warnings of hurricane conditions and dangerous storm surge.

The NHC said Grace would dump 4-8 inches (10-20 cm) of rain over the Yucatan peninsula through Friday, and up to 12 inches in some areas. The heavy rainfall would likely cause areas of flash and urban flooding, it added.

Mexican officials said preparations had been made for the hurricane’s arrival, with dozens of military and rescue workers as well as staff from the national power utility, the Comision Federal Electricidad, gearing up to help.

“We’re ready,” Laura Velazquez, head of Mexico’s civil protection authority, told a regular news conference standing alongside President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Velazquez said the states of Quintana Roo, Campeche, Yucatan and Tabasco were likely to receive heavy rainfall.

Grace unleashed downpours and flooding over Haiti and Jamaica earlier this week. By Thursday morning it was about 85 miles west of Tulum, with top sustained winds of 65 mph (100 kph) the NHC said. The storm was moving west at 18 mph (29 kph).

(Reporting by Dave Graham, Daina Beth Solomon and Diego OreEditing by Mark Porter and Frances Kerry)

Oil extends losses as Texas prepares to ramp up output after freeze

By Devika Krishna Kumar

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Oil prices fell for a second day on Friday, retreating further from recent highs as Texas energy companies began preparations to restart oil and gas fields shuttered by freezing weather and power outages.

Brent crude futures were down 66 cents, or 1%, at $63.27 a barrel by 12:27 p.m. (1727 GMT). U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude fell 99 cents, or 1.6%, to $59.53.

For the week, Brent was on track for a 1.3% gain while WTI was largely flat.

This week, both benchmarks had climbed to the highest in more than a year.

“Price pullback thus far appears corrective and is slight within the context of this month’s major upside price acceleration,” said Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates.

Unusually cold weather in Texas and the Plains states curtailed up to 4 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude production and 21 billion cubic feet of natural gas, analysts estimated.

Texas refiners halted about a fifth of the nation’s oil processing amid power outages and severe cold.

Companies were expected to prepare for production restarts on Friday as electric power and water services slowly resume, sources said.

“While much of the selling relates to a gradual resumption of power in the Gulf coast region ahead of a significant temperature warmup, the magnitude of this week’s loss of supply may require further discounting given much uncertainty regarding the extent and possible duration of lost output,” Ritterbusch said.

Oil prices fell despite a surprise drop in U.S. crude stockpiles last week, before the big freeze hit. Inventories fell 7.3 million barrels to 461.8 million barrels, their lowest since March, the Energy Information Administration reported on Thursday.

“Vaccines and the impressive rollouts we’ve seen have delivered strong gains, as have the efforts of OPEC+ – Saudi Arabia, in particular – and the big freeze in Texas, which gave oil prices one final kick this week,” Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at OANDA said.

“With so many bullish factors now priced in, it seems we’re seeing some of these positions being unwound.”

The United States on Thursday said it was ready to talk to Iran about returning to a 2015 agreement that aimed to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Still, analysts did not expect near-term reversal of sanctions on Iran that were imposed by the previous U.S. administration.

“This breakthrough increases the probability that we may see Iran returning to the oil market soon, although there is much to be discussed and a new deal will not be a carbon-copy of the 2015 nuclear deal,” said StoneX analyst Kevin Solomon.

(Additional reporting by Ahmad Ghaddar in London and Roslan Khasawneh in Singapore and Sonali Paul in Melbourne; Editing by Marguerita Choy and David Gregorio)

Ford latest automaker to shut North American plants on U.S. winter weather

By Sharay Angulo

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Freezing weather that interrupted gas supplies in the southern United States and Mexico was wreaking havoc on Thursday with car manufacturing plants on both sides of the border, with Ford saying several of its assembly plants have been shut.

The cold snap has overwhelmed Texas’ power grid, while natural gas supplies to Mexico from Texas were interrupted, leaving millions without power in Mexico’s industrial northern states earlier in the week.

Mexico generates most of its power from natural gas, largely imported from the United States. The two countries also require intricate supply chains to be functional to supply auto and other industrial operations on both sides of the border.

Ford Motor Co. on Thursday said adverse weather had led to the temporary closure of plants in Kansas City, Flat Rock and Ohio, as well as a plant in Hermosillo in the northern Mexican border state of Sonora.

Late on Wednesday, Volkswagen said it would suspend some production in Mexico on Thursday and Friday due to a limited natural gas supply in the country. The cut in supply also affected Audi as well as General Motors’ plant in the central city of Silao, where work was stopped on Tuesday night and Wednesday.

Ford’s Kansas City plant’s operations have been canceled from Feb 13-22, the company said in a statement to Reuters.

Ford said it plans to run double shifts in its plants in Chicago, Dearborn and Oakville.

Mexico, Latin America’s second-largest economy, has reeled as gas imports via pipeline from Texas dropped by about 75% over the last week, causing billions of dollars of losses on power outages and factory closures.

(Reporting by Sharay Angulo; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and David Gregorio)

Storm Gloria leaves eight dead, ruins rice paddies in Spain

MADRID (Reuters) – At least eight people have been killed as Storm Gloria has rampaged across eastern Spain, unleashing winds of up to 144 kmh (90 mph) and waves up to 13.5 meters (44 feet) high, officials said on Wednesday.

Three people remained missing four days after Gloria began pummeling the region with torrential rain and heavy snowfall alike. Rescue officials said the missing included a 25-year-old Briton on the island of Ibiza and a man who fell into the Mediterranean as he tried to moor his boat in Palamos port.

The storm began receding on Wednesday after leaving more than 200,000 people without power at times, destroying rice paddies in the Ebro river delta and triggering weather alerts for three dozen provinces.

Gloria ranks as the worst sea storm since 2003 “and likely of this century”, Dani Palacios, head of beach services for Barcelona in the northeast, told local broadcaster BETEVE.

Spanish police said they had found the body of a person in an Alicante river while a source at rescue services said another person died after a building collapsed in nearby Alcoy, likely due to heavy rainfall.

A man working in a greenhouse was killed as hail pounded the structure, a mayor in the province of Almeria told Efe news agency, while authorities in Valencia province blamed the death of a homeless person on frigid cold brought by the storm.

Sea water poured into the Ebro delta, one of Spain’s most important wetlands, inundating thousands of hectares of rice plants. “We can’t remember anything similar ever happening,” local mayor Lluis Soler told Cadena Ser radio.

“It’s dramatic to see how the river has overflowed and the sea has traveled kilometers inland.”

Waves in the western Mediterranean hit a record-breaking height of 13.5 meters (44.5 feet), port authorities said, slamming into seafront shops flooding municipalities.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez tweeted his “support and solidarity for the families of the victims of Storm Gloria and those suffering its the fatal consequences.”

(Reporting by Elena Rodriguez; Writing by Ashifa Kassam; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Record 45 million people across Southern Africa face hunger: U.N. food agency

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – The United Nations World Food Programme said on Thursday that a record 45 million people in the 16-nation Southern African Development Community faced growing hunger following repeated drought, widespread flooding and economic disarray.

Southern Africa is in the grips of a severe drought, as climate change wreaks havoc in impoverished countries already struggling to cope with extreme natural disasters, such as Cyclone Idai which devastated Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in 2019.

Zimbabwe, once the breadbasket of southern Africa, is experiencing its worst economic crisis in a decade, marked by soaring inflation and shortages of food, fuel, medicines and electricity.

“This hunger crisis is on a scale we’ve not seen before and the evidence shows it’s going to get worse,” the WFP’s Regional Director for Southern Africa, Lola Castro, said in a statement.

“The annual cyclone season has begun and we simply cannot afford a repeat of the devastation caused by last year’s unprecedented storms.”

The agency plans to provide “lean season” assistance to 8.3 million people grappling with “crisis” or “emergency” levels of hunger in eight of the hardest-hit countries, which include Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Madagascar, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini and Malawi.

To date, WFP has secured just $205 million of the $489 million required for this assistance and has been forced to resort heavily to internal borrowing to ensure food reaches those in need, it said.

In December, the United Nations said it was procuring food assistance for 4.1 million Zimbabweans, a quarter of the population of a country where shortages are being exacerbated by runaway inflation and climate-induced drought.

“Zimbabwe is in the throes of its worst hunger emergency in a decade, with 7.7 million people – half the population – seriously food insecure,” the agency said.

In Zambia and drought-stricken Lesotho, 20% of the population faces a food crisis, as do 10% of Namibians.

Castro said that if the agency does not receive the necessary funding, it will have no choice but to assist fewer of those most in need and with less.

(Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by Jon Boyle and Giles Elgood)

U.S. winter storms cause 10 deaths, flight cancellations, power outages

(Reuters) – At least 10 people died, more than 1,000 flights were canceled and hundreds of thousands were without power in five states on Saturday as a massive winter storm system dumped snow, freezing rain and hail from Texas to Michigan.

Hurricane-force wind gusts, golf-ball-sized hail and 2 to 5 inches (5-13 cm)of snow fell on Friday night and early Saturday as storms pushed from Texas through the Southeast and Great Lakes into Maine, the National Weather Service (NWS) said.

More snow with accumulations between 6 to 12 inches was expected through Sunday in parts of Illinois, Michigan, northern New York and New England.

“The real danger comes from the wind and ice accumulation,” said NWS forecaster Bob Oravec in College Park Maryland.

More than half an inch of ice was predicted to cake highways and roads across the South and Northeast from Saturday night to Sunday morning, he said.

“The ice and wind will make driving treacherous, and trees can snap and knock out power and do other damage,” he said.

Two people were killed when the storm destroyed a trailer home in northwestern Louisiana late Friday, according to the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office. Local media reported that a third person died after a tree fell on a home in that state.

A fourth person was killed Friday in the storms when a car slide off the road and into a creek in Dallas, NBC news reported.

A firefighter and a police officer in Lubbock, Texas, were killed Saturday after a car slid on ice-slicked U.S. Interstate Highway 27 as they were investigating a traffic accident, Lubbock Fire officials said.

Three more storm-related deaths occurred in Pickens County in western Alabama, CNN reported, but details were not immediately available.

A 10th person died in southeastern Oklahoma on Saturday morning after the 58-year-old man was swept away while his pickup truck was stalled in deep water on a flooded road, the Houston Chronicle reported.

More than 257,000 homes and businesses were without power across Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas according the tracking site PowerOutage.us. Heavy outages in Texas, Michigan and Illinois were largely repaired by late Saturday afternoon.

The bulk of the nation’s flight delays and cancellations were at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, with more than 1,000 flights canceled and hundreds more delayed, according to flightaware.com.

Tornadoes damaged or destroyed some buildings in Arkansas and Missouri, forecasters said.

NWS said more than 18 million people in Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma remained at risk of tornadoes and flooding rains. Oravec said that hurricane-force wind gusts of about 75 mph (120 kph) hit the southeast.

As the system pushes eastward, rain should end overnight in many southern states, but the Northeast and New England can expect severe weather to last for another day, he said.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Cynthia Osterman)