Houston — Just as petrochemical operations in Lake Charles, Louisiana, were beginning or about to begin restarting six weeks after Hurricane Laura's assault in late August, operators were preparing Oct. 7 for yet another storm's arrival.
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Currently a Category 2 storm upon landfall on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula early Oct. 7, Hurricane Delta is expected to strengthen to a Category 3 storm with winds up to 129 mph while moving across the Gulf of Mexico toward the south-central Louisiana Coast. Delta had been a Category 4 storm, the same level as Laura, before weakening upon landfall on the Yucatan.
Mid-morning Oct. 7, the US National Hurricane Center's forecast landfall had shifted west, now expected Oct. 9 in eastern Cameron Parish. Hurricane Laura came ashore Aug. 27 in the same parish, packing 150 mph winds.
Delta's trajectory could put battered Lake Charles its crosshairs just six weeks after taking a direct hit from Laura.
"They all need to do whatever is needed to be prepared for this scenario again," a market source said of Lake Charles chemical producers.
The storm's projected cone also encompassed far southeast Texas, where chemical operators run plants in Orange and Port Arthur, as well as Louisiana's state capital Baton Rouge and chemical hubs in Geismar and Plaquemine.
NOVA Chemical had been ready to restart its 928,000 mt/year cracker in Geismar, about 66 miles west of New Orleans, after an unplanned shutdown for repairs in mid-September, but opted to hold off until Delta passes, a company spokeswoman said.
"We have safely completed mechanical repairs at our Geismar olefins facility in Louisiana, but given the anticipated wind speeds associated with Hurricane Delta, we will defer restart until after the storm," the spokeswoman, Jennifer Nanz, said in an email.
Operators in storm's cone monitoring Delta's movements
About 35 miles north of Geismar on the west side of the Mississippi River, Shintech and Dow Chemical were monitoring Delta's progress. Shintech's 635,000 mt/year polyvinyl chloride plant in Plaquemine was already shut for an October turnaround, which had already prompted reduced rates at upstream units, according to a source familiar with company operations.
Dow spokeswoman Ashley Mendoza said in an Oct. 7 email that the company was activating storm preparations, which would advance at its Plaquemine operations as needed. Dow's Plaquemine operations include 500,000 mt/year and 978,000 mt/year crackers and a 350,000 mt/year low density polyethylene plant.
Westlake Chemical has complexes in three potential Delta targets: Lake Charles, Geismar and Plaquemines. Spokesman Chip Swearngen said in an email Oct. 7 that the company was monitoring the storm's progress.
The company had just restarted three chlor-alkali plants at its Lake Charles complex, and was preparing to restart other units that had been shut since before Laura's Aug. 27 landfall. Delta's approach was prompting preparations at Lake Charles again, as well as the company's operations in Geismar and Plaquemine.
Staff at ExxonMobil's Baton Rouge Refining and chemical complex were closely monitoring Delta's movements and implementing storm preparations, but operations were normal, spokeswoman Sarah Nordin said in an Oct. 7 email. Formosa Plastics USA's Baton Rouge operations also were implementing storm preparedness plans.
Ports were preparing for Delta's landfall as well. The Port of Lake Charles and in the Texas ports of Port Arthur, Orange, Sabine, Beaumont and Houston were put Oct. 7 under what is known as Port Condition X-Ray, which means vessels must prepare to finish cargo operations and depart within 24 hours.
The Port of Lake Charles had not resumed normal traffic flows since Laura's landfall, with drafts still restricted to 36 feet.