When Hurricane Harvey hit the U.S. Gulf Coast, it triggered the shutdown of a third of the country’s refinery capacity, dramatically altering the supply of gasoline and fuel from Texas to New York.
Seventeen days later, Hurricane Irma made landfall near Naples, Florida, and turned supply and demand into demand and demand.
The one-two hurricane punch created a perfect storm in trying to supply the energy needed to help recovery in Texas and aid evacuations in Florida.
The storms highlighted the interconnectivity of America’s energy supply chain, from refineries in Texas to pipelines linking fuel terminals throughout the country. The storms also tested the responsiveness of those who oversee that infrastructure. Teams coordinated thousands of smaller steps to get the supplies where they were needed, as quickly and as safely as possible.
“While our team was managing our Harvey supply response, we were also preparing for Irma, as Florida was expecting major evacuations,” said Tammy Lum, U.S. supply operations manager for ExxonMobil Refining & Supply Company. “Some members of the team were evacuating their own homes (in Texas), and others stepped up, working through extreme conditions to help their colleagues and get supply back in the market.”
Harvey was unprecedented in its scope and could potentially cost up to $160 billion in damages – making it one of the costliest storms in history.
Here’s a snapshot of only some of the steps taken, often by employees working around the clock, to provide consumers with much-needed fuel.
Supplying the rest of the country
The Colonial and Plantation pipelines serve as critical supply routes from the U.S. Gulf Coast to the Northeast states, delivering gasoline, aviation fuel and diesel along the way. When multiple Texas refineries shut down, slowing deliveries to the Colonial Pipeline, ExxonMobil’s Baton Rouge refinery in Louisiana maximized deliveries to the Plantation pipeline. In order to meet the needs of customers, the supply team secured access for wholesalers to resupply their retail sites from alternative terminals along the pipeline routes. The Baton Rouge refinery boosted production and deferred scheduled maintenance to help supply additional fuels, and even sent jet fuel via barge to meet Texas’ needs.
Reprioritizing at Joliet
Leading up to Harvey’s arrival, the company’s Joliet refinery in Channahon, Illinois, just outside of Chicago, was scheduled to conduct maintenance on its operations. Because of the storm, that facility rescheduled its planned maintenance and continued operating to help meet gasoline demand in the Midwest.
Patience and recovery
Immediately following Harvey, some cities in Texas not directly affected by the storm faced gasoline shortages, because the pipelines and terminals they relied on were impacted. In some cases, crews were able to remove the water at impacted terminals to reopen them quickly, but many pipelines could only be inspected after rivers subsided. In the meantime, the company did its best to provide gasoline through other industry terminals.
Getting supply to customers
Florida’s fuel supplies are largely dependent on waterborne vessels from Gulf Coast refineries. Following Harvey, teams redirected vessels from New York Harbor and Europe to supply Florida. With Irma closing in on Florida, ExxonMobil made essentially all of its fuels available to wholesalers so they could fill their stations. “We wanted retail site operators to have as much fuel as possible to meet the expected spike in demand from evacuees filling their tanks,” Lum said.