By BEN LEFEBVRE and ALISON SIDER
HOUSTON -- US Gulf Coast oil and gas companies on Thursday emerged from the shelter imposed by Hurricane Isaac, assessing damages and beginning to re-staff evacuated refineries and offshore platforms as the now-weakened storm winds its way through central Louisiana.
Analysts with Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. said that energy markets aren't expecting lasting disruptions, but they are looking for confirmation of this as companies emerge from shelter.
So far, the markets are being mostly reassured. Valero Energy said Thursday two of its Louisiana refineries that were shut down in anticipation of the storm have sustained no major damage and are starting to be restaffed.
The refineries, in Meraux and Norco, had been shut down early in the week. Initial inspections have turned up minor wind damage to the facilities but no major damage to the refineries production units, Valero spokesman Bill Day said.
We should have a better idea in the next few days when restart can begin,Mr. Day said.
Valeros Memphis, Tennessee, refinery continues to run at reduced rates because of the closing of the 1.2 million bpd Capline pipeline that provides oil to the refinery, Mr. Day said.
Oil producer Anadarko Petroleum said its remote monitoring systems indicate that the company's deep-water oil and gas facilities in the Gulf of Mexico are intact, and workers will begin returning to the central Gulf Friday to do more thorough investigations of the facilities.
Staff will return to facilities in the eastern Gulf starting Saturday morning; operations will restart whenever pipelines and other infrastructure allow, Anadarko said.
BP, the biggest energy producer in the Gulf, said it would conduct flyovers of its offshore platforms as weather permits.
Enterprise Products said it was restarting its Sea Robin natural-gas processing plant after inspections showed the facility was operable.
Were prepared to accept any volumes that get shipped, Enterprise spokesman Rick Rainey said.
ExxonMobil said it is assessing its Gulf facilities.
Marathon Petroleum declined to comment on the state of its 464,000 bpd refinery in Garyville, La., which it ran at reduced rates during Isaac.
Some problems have been emerged, however. Phillips 66 said it found some flooding at its 247,000 bpd Alliance refinery in Belle Chasse, La., in Plaquemines Parish, the area that suffered the initial brunt of the hurricane.
Refinery personnel are working to prevent more flooding and to pump water out of the flooded areas, the company said.
The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, where giant tankers unload overseas crude oil, resumed delivering oil Wednesday night from its St. James, La., facility, spokeswoman Barb Hestermann said Thursday.
Ms. Hestermann said the weather has cleared enough to allow workers to start assessing the port's onshore facilities, and there are plans to do an assessment of the marine terminal as well.
The port lost power during the storm and, though power hasn't been restored to all the port's facilities, backup generators are working, Ms. Hestermann said.
Futures markets in New York have reacted calmly to the storm. Crude oil is down 1.31% at $94.24 Thursday, and gasoline futures are down 0.42% at $2.90/gal. Last Friday, before the storms final path was clear, gasoline futures in New York were trading at $3.08.
However, average prices at the pump Thursday were 11 cents higher for the week at $3.83/gal, according to AAAs Daily Fuel Gauge.
Avery Ash, manager of regulatory affairs at the Automobile Association of America, said the increase was due to a jump earlier this week in the wholesale price that has taken awhile to make its way to the pump. That price rise was due to earlier uncertainty about the storms effects.
As of Wednesday afternoon, refiners had shut down about 936,500 bpd of refining capacity, or 5.4% of the nation's total, according to a tally by the US Department of Energy.
Also, more than 1.3 million bpd of oil production in the Gulfs federal waters, or nearly 95% of the total, were shut in, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said.
About 3.2 billion cubic feet/day of natural gas, or 72% of total production, was suspended, the BSEE said.
The Department of Energy said Thursday that about 39% of Louisiana electric customers were without power. About 11% of electric customers in Mississippi had also lost power, the DOE said.
Dow Jones Newswires