U.S. Oil Starts To Flow

The U.S. oil industry cranked back into gear Thursday over a week after Hurricane Katrina. Port executives in the ruined city of New Orleans said workers were straining to get normal operations back up at the country's biggest grain export hub within a week. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said the Gulf Coast has "all but four refineries now back on stream and functioning", after at least eight were knocked out entirely in the trail of devastation left by Katrina. The quartet can process between 700,000 and a million barrels of oil day, which represents four to five percent of total U.S. refining capacity.

In Katrina's immediate wake, up to 20% of U.S. refinery capacity was offline with refineries on the Gulf of Mexico coast suffering wind or flood damage, or loss of power. Crude oil production in the Gulf is also slowly getting back to normal after grinding to a virtual halt when hundreds of rigs and platforms were evacuated ahead of Katrina. Flows from pipelines that deliver gasoline and other refined products from the Gulf Coast to the rest of the U.S. are "now operating at 100%", Bodman said.

The U.S. is releasing 30 million barrels of oil from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and its partners in the International Energy Agency are furnishing another 30 million barrels.

More On Hurricane Katrina

See IndustryWeek's Hurricane Katrina News & Resources section for more on coverage and how companies are responding.
Gary LaGrange, chief executive of the Port of New Orleans, said commercial shipping would soon return to the flooded city's docks. The port, the fifth-biggest in the U.S. in terms of cargo traffic, is now seeing 15 to 25 tankers and grain ships passing through daily.

From an agricultural perspective, New Orleans handles just over 60% of U.S. exports of corn and soybeans. Grain barges are limited to transiting on the Lower Mississippi only in daylight hours after Katrina destroyed 90% of night-time navigational aids and dumped sediment on the riverbed. River pilots have been working all hours to get the barges out to waiting tankers lying offshore, LaGrange said. "It's critical because it's harvest season and the farmers have to get the grain out of here. In no uncertain terms ... the grain is flowing by my office, headed for Asia," he said.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2005

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