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Louisiana chemical plants prepare for Tropical Storm Barry

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Louisiana chemical plants prepare for Tropical Storm Barry

Houston — Chemical companies in the current path of Tropical Storm Barry as it heads toward Louisiana were monitoring the storm and preparing their sites for heavy rain on Thursday, but operations remained normal, according to the companies and market sources.

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"Dow is monitoring the storm and, out of an abundance of caution, making pre-storm preparations in some areas," Dow Chemical spokeswoman Ashley Mendoza said in an email Thursday. "At this time, we plan normal operations."

Dow has ethylene, polyethylene and synthetic rubber facilities in Plaquemine, Louisiana, which was among cities along the Mississippi River in the storm's expected path. The company also has polyethylene, glycol ethers, polyolefins and elastomers operations 136 miles west of Plaquemine in Lake Charles, Louisiana, another petrochemical hub in the state that is on the west side of Barry's projected path.

On Thursday, what had been seen as a tropical depression was upgraded to Tropical Storm Barry, and the US National Hurricane Center issued warnings for storm surges in areas between Lake Charles and New Orleans and tropical storm watches that stretched to the Mississippi/Alabama state line.

The NHC's forecast showed that the storm's center was expected to be near the central or southeastern coast of Louisiana Friday night or Saturday.

Phillips 66 on Thursday was preparing to shut down its 253,600 b/d Alliance refinery in Belle Chasse, Louisiana, the first petrochemical plant to shut down ahead of the storm's arrival onshore. The refinery is in a low-lying area that has flooded in previous storms.

But by early afternoon Thursday, no chemical operations were heard to have shut down, though storm preparations were underway.

"We are monitoring and will take necessary actions," a source familiar with Shintech operations said of the company's Plaquemine complex. Shintech, the largest US producer of construction staple polyvinyl chloride, is preparing to start up a 500,000 mt/year steam cracker and is expanding chlor-alkali, ethylene dichloride, vinyl chloride monomer and PVC output slated to come online next year. "At this moment, the operation is fully normal," the source said. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

Westlake Chemical, another major producer of products in the PVC chain as well as polyethylene, has operations in Lake Charles, Geismar and Plaquemine. Spokesman Chip Swearingen said Thursday in an email that plants in all locations "are taking precautions for heavy rain and wind, but will operate through the storm."

Shell spokesman Ray Fisher said Thursday the company's chemical operations were stable at its Norco refining and chemical complex and in Geismar, where the company started up a fourth 425,000 mt/year alpha olefins unit in January. "Both are just preparing for a high-wind and heavy-rain event," he said.

Lotte Chemical's 700,000 monoethylene glycol unit in Lake Charles that started up in January and an associated 1 million mt/year joint-venture steam cracker that came online in June were operating normally as the company made storm preparations and put its storm plans into effect.

"We have made thorough rounds in the plant to identify anything that may need to be secured due to high winds," said a source familiar with company operations. "Fortunately for us, it looks like this is just a drill." The company did not respond to a request for comment.

And Pinnacle Polymers, which operates a polypropylene plant in Garyville about 47 miles south of Baton Rouge along the Mississippi River with capacity to produce more than 453,000 mt/year, also had no plans to shut down production, according to a source familiar with company operations. The only issue could be delays in rail deliveries to customers if flooding slows railroad traffic, the source said.

-- Kristen Hays,

-- MK Bower,

-- Edited by Keiron Greenhalgh,