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FACTBOX: Deep freeze prompts upsets, shutdowns at US Gulf Coast petrochemical plants

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FACTBOX: Deep freeze prompts upsets, shutdowns at US Gulf Coast petrochemical plants


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Houston — Extreme cold not seen along the US Gulf Coast for more than a century left the petrochemical-heavy Texas and Louisiana coasts in a deep freeze starting the afternoon of Feb. 14, prompting plant shutdowns, unit upsets and flaring in a region used to sweltering rather than frigid temperatures.

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"These plants weren't build for this," a market source said. "They will not run well in these kinds of temperatures."

In Texas alone, nearly 3.5 million customers were huddled without power the afternoon of Feb. 15 as ice encased roadways and bridges, prompting the shutdown of airports and Houston Ship Channel, the second-largest petrochemical port in the world. The Port of Corpus Christi also was shut Feb. 15.

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While sunshine had melted much of the ice by mid-afternoon, authorities warned motorists to stay home, as bitter cold would return overnight and re-ice roadways and bridges. The Houston Pilots, which oversee vessel traffic in and out of the ship channel, said traffic would remain suspended on expectations that roadways would become hazardous again within hours.

Formosa Plastics USA on Feb. 13 began shutting its entire complex in Point Comfort, Texas, in the middle of the Texas Coast, as a safety precaution, according to sources familiar with company operations. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

The complex includes three crackers with a cumulative capacity of 2.76 million mt/year; 875,000 mt/year in high density polyethylene capacity; a new 400,000 mt/year low density PE plant; and 465,000 mt/year in linear low density PE capacity.

The Point Comfort complex also has a 798,000 mt/year polyvinyl chloride plant and upstream vinyl chloride monomer, ethylene dichloride and chlor-alkali facilities.

LyondellBasell reported upsets and flaring at multiple Houston-area sites because of power outage amid the severe weather, spokeswoman Kara Slaughter said.

She declined to specify which units were affected, but LyondellBasell and other producers reported various issues stemming from the below-freezing temperatures, according to notices the companies announced on community hotlines.

Here is a rundown of operational issues reported Feb. 15 on the Community Awareness Emergency Response, or CAER, online system and the Southeast Texas Reporting Network, or STAN line:

  • LyondellBasell, Channelview, Texas: Flaring, no further detail; site has two crackers with a cumulative 1.9 million mt/year of capacity
  • INEOS Styrolution, Bayport, Texas unit upset and flaring; site has a 779,000 mt/year styrene unit, the largest in the region
  • TPC Group, Houston, boilers lost steam; operating units including a 544,310 mt/year butadiene unit were shut down until the boiler resumes operations.
  • ExxonMobil, Baytown, Texas, "operational issue" resulted in flaring at its olefins site; complex has three crackers with a cumulative 3.8 million mt/year of capacity.
  • LyondellBasell, Bayport, Texas, flaring; site has three polypropylene facilities with a cumulative 1.85 million mt/year of capacity.
  • Motiva Chemicals, Port Arthur, Texas, flaring; site has a 635,000 mt/year mixed-feed cracker.
  • Flint Hills Resources, Houston, flaring; 658,000 mt/year propane dehydrogenation (PDH) unit
  • Chevron Phillips Chemical, Baytown, Texas, flaring on unplanned operational issue; site has two crackers with a cumulative 2.5 million mt/year of capacity
  • CP Chem, Port Arthur, Texas, flaring; 853,000 mt/year cracker
  • LyondellBasell, La Porte, Texas, process upset; site has a 500,000 mt/year HDPE unit, a 555,000 mt/year LDPE unit and a 355,000 mt/year LLDPE facility at La Porte.
  • INEOS/Sasol, La Porte, Texas, flaring at 460,000 mt/year HDPE unit on loss of steam
  • CP Chem, Pasadena, Texas preparing for shutdown of 998,000 mt/year HDPE unit "due to ongoing weather conditions"