Hurricane Laura threatens to cause ‘insurvable’ wave in the US Gulf

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A powerful hurricane was heading towards the US Gulf of Mexico coast on Wednesday, threatening high winds and an “insurvable” seawater surge at the heart of US oil refining, natural gas exports and petrochemical production.

Laura is the second named storm to hit the Gulf this week, after Marco died off off the coast of Louisiana. The National Weather Service warned Laura would be a “formidable hurricane,” which would make landfall along the Texas-Louisiana border on Thursday after midnight and push storm surges up to 30 miles inland.

The center of the storm was passing between Port Arthur, Texas, and Lake Charles, Louisiana, two of the nation’s largest oil refining hubs. According to S&P Global Platts Analytics, refineries with a total capacity of 2.2 million barrels per day of oil were closing factories or reducing volumes before the storm, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics – about a quarter of refining capacity on the coasts of Texas and Louisiana.

Affected refineries included North America’s largest plant, Motiva Enterprises’ largest 630,000 bpd plant in Port Arthur, as well as Citgo’s 425,000 bpd refinery in Lake Charles, S&P said. .

With the United States exporting around 3 million b / d of crude oil and 5 million b / d of refined petroleum products this year, disruptions to Gulf infrastructure could affect global energy markets as well as U.S. consumers.

The largest liquefied natural gas export terminal in the United States, Cheniere Energy’s plant in Sabine Pass, Louisiana, has also suspended operations due to the evacuation of employees, a spokesperson confirmed.

A store in Jennings, Louisiana, is closed. People were warned to evacuate before Laura reached land © Dan Anderson / EPA / Shutterstock

Tropical cyclones can cause severe damage and death on the Gulf Coast. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey dumped nearly four feet of water as it lingered for days around Houston, inundating neighborhoods and causing environmental damage in a chemical plant explosion.

Laura was expected to bring winds of up to 140 mph to the coast. The weather service warned of “an insurvable storm surge with big, destructive waves [that] will cause catastrophic damage ”, with waters rising up to 20 feet above ground level.

The weather service predicted Laura would drop about 5-10 inches of rain before moving rapidly inland. On Wednesday afternoon, U.S. gasoline futures fell 3.6 percent to $ 1.35 a gallon, partially reversing a rally from the start of the week.

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Compared to Harvey, “the damage recovery efforts that will certainly be done along the coast can start much faster because this storm will not last long,” according to a note from the Arnold Companies, a fuel wholesaler.

Lina Hidalgo, the top elected representative for Harris County, which surrounds Houston, has told residents to prepare for the worst.

“Every storm is different,” she told a press conference earlier in the week. “We urge people not to use an earlier storm as a model for what could or will happen. “

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