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Chemical operations in Hurricane Laura's path shutting down

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Chemical operations in Hurricane Laura's path shutting down

Highlights

Storm headed for Texas-Louisiana state line

Companies in areas under mandatory evacuation orders

Houston — US chemical manufacturers were shutting down operations in southwest Louisiana and southeast Texas on Aug. 25 ahead of Hurricane Laura's landfall, sources and company spokeswomen said.

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Sasol and Westlake Chemical were among petrochemical companies shutting down operations in Lake Charles, Louisiana, which remained near the center of the National Hurricane Center's cone showing the storm's path. The storm was headed for the US Gulf Coast at the Texas-Louisiana state line, prompting mandatory evacuation orders in Lake Charles as well as Port Arthur and Beaumont, Texas.

"Given Hurricane Laura is forecast to directly impact the area between Beaumont, Texas, and Lake Charles, Louisiana, the decision has been made to proceed with the shutdown of Sasol's facilities at both Lake Charles and Winnie," Sasol spokeswoman Kim Cusimano said in an email.

ExxonMobil spokeswoman Sarah Nordin also said in an email that the company was shutting down its refining and chemical complex in Beaumont.

"Both the refinery and chemical plant are operating at reduced rates and have initiated shutdown step," Nordin said. "We continue to meet contractual commitments."

South Africa-based Sasol's Lake Charles operations include the its new $12.9 billion expansion with a 1.5 million mt/year cracker, a 470,000 mt/year linear low density polyethylene plant and a 380,000 mt/year ethylene oxide/monoethylene glycol plant. It also includes a new 420,000 mt/year LDPE plant slated to start up in September. The Winnie facility produces meta-cresol and para-cresol, which are used to produce resins, pharmaceuticals and other chemicals.

ExxonMobil's chemical operations at Beaumont include a 826,000 mt/year cracker and a 650,000 mt/year LLDPE plant. The refinery has a capacity of 369,026 b/d.

Sources familiar with Westlake operations confirmed the company was shutting down its Lake Charles complex, which includes three chlor-alkali plants with a combined capacity of 1.27 million mt/year of chlorine and 1.36 million mt/year of caustic soda; two vinyl chloride monomer plants with a combined capacity of 952,543 mt/year; two crackers with a combined capacity of 1.19 million mt/year; 200,000 mt/year of LLDPE capacity; and a 386,000 mt/year LDPE plant. The complex also has a 258,547 mt/year styrene plant.

AUTHORITIES ISSUING MANDATORY EVACUATION ORDERS FOR RESIDENTS

Authorities in Jefferson County, home to Beaumont, and Calcasieu Parish, home to Lake Charles, on Aug. 25 issued mandatory evacuation orders for residents.

Another petrochemical-heavy city, Port Arthur, Texas, also was in the hurricane's projected path. Total spokeswoman Marie Maitre said in an email Aug. 25 that the company was shutting down its 225,500 b/d refinery in Port Arthur. The company had also halted construction work on a new 1 million mt/year cracker adjacent to the refinery. Total and BASF's joint-venture 1 million mt/year cracker in Port Arthur had already been shut for maintenance.

Port Arthur residents were under a mandatory evacuation order as of Aug. 24. The Port of Lake Charles closed on Aug. 24, while ports in Port Arthur and Beaumont were not boarding any inbound vessels on Aug. 25.

Projections of Hurricane Laura's path inched west overnight, with its core headed for the Texas-Louisiana state line, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm was expected to strengthen into a Category 3 hurricane, which would have 111-129 mph winds, according to the Saffir-Simpson scale. A Category 2 storm carries 96-110 mph winds. The hurricane center said tropical force winds stretched 175 miles from the storm's center.

Companies with operations west of Hurricane Laura's core were preparing for the storm as well. Nordin said ExxonMobil's refining and chemical complex in Baytown, Texas, were operating on Aug. 25, but "preparations include precautionary measures in the event conditions worsen."

The Baytown complex includes a 560,500 b/d refinery and three crackers with a cumulative capacity of 3.37 million mt/year.

The Houston Ship Channel, home to the second-largest petrochemical port in the world behind Rotterdam, at 8 pm. CT Aug. 24 ordered vessels to finish cargo operations and be set to depart within 24 hours, according to the US Coast Guard. The port was expected to stop receiving incoming vessels the evening of Aug. 25 and shut down on Aug. 26 if necessary, the Coast Guard said.