By: Frank Esposito
Plastics News Staff
August 29, 2017
Editor's note: Plastics News is continuing to monitor the situation in Texas. Please check back for updates. Additional stories on the storm are linked at the bottom of this story. If you have any information to pass on, you can connect with Frank Esposito at firstname.lastname@example.org, Editor Don Loepp at email@example.com or @plasticsnews on Twitter.
Rain spawned by Hurricane Harvey is still falling near Houston, affecting more than half of the U.S. ethylene capacity, but some firms are gradually making plans to bring materials plants back on line.
Both Formosa Plastics Corp. USA and Enterprise Products LP have announced they have begun work to restart operations in Texas, four days after Harvey made landfall on the Gulf Coast.
“We are making progress with our facility assessment and limited in-plant utilities are in operation,” said Formosa officials about its Point Comfort facility. “Regular employee work schedules will commence on Aug. 29 ... at reduced staffing levels due to the number of employees that have sheltered outside the immediate area.”
Enterprise Products also began work to restart production on Aug. 29, and expected to be back on line by Sept. 3, according to consulting service PetroChem Wire.
Harvey still may likely have major impacts on short-term markets for polyethylene, PVC and related materials PetroChem Wire noted.
Fairlawn, Ohio-based A. Schulman Inc. announced Aug. 29 that its three Houston-area facilities are closed to “ensure the safety of our employees and to respect nightly curfews which would impact some of the scheduled shifts.”
“We are waiting for further assessment of the facilities to understand what, if any, damage has been sustained, which will then provide us more information to determine when operations may be able to resume. With the ongoing rain, electrical outages and communication disruption, it is early to tell what, if any, impact the storm may have on our operations.”
Corpus Christi, near the site of the hurricane’s landfall, has set a date to reopen for shipping, but in Houston rain is continuing to fall as of Aug. 29, adding to the major flood. At least 13 people have died.
The National Weather Service reported that two weather stations in Texas recorded more than 48 inches of rain from Harvey, the highest recorded rainfall from a single weather system in the continental United States.
“This will be a devastating disaster, probably the worst disaster the state’s seen,” said William “Brock” Long, the new director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Petrochem Wire estimates that approximately 50 percent of the U.S. ethylene capacity is down. That could have major impact on short-term markets for polyethylene, PVC and related materials.
ExxonMobil announced Aug. 28 that flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey has led to operational issues at its Baytown complex.
“We are in the process of a safe and systematic shutdown of operations. Safety is our first priority, and we are taking all precautions to minimize the impact to the community and employees throughout the shutdown process,” the company said in a statement.
ExxonMobil announced before the storm that it has allocated $500,000 for contributions to regional Red Cross organizations to assist with relief efforts in communities expected to be impacted by Hurricane Harvey.
Huntsman Corp. said Aug. 28 that it successfully shut down facilities in Chocolate Bayou, Conroe, Dayton, Freeport, Houston and Port Neches ahead of the storm. It also closed its corporate offices in the Houston suburb of The Woodlands as well as its Advanced Technology Center in the same city.
“We are communicating directly with our customers about their orders and deliveries through our dedicated customer service and commercial contacts,” Huntsman officials said. “We continue to monitor conditions closely and will reopen our offices as soon as it is safe for our employees to travel by road.”
Huntsman’s other locations on the Gulf Coast, in Geismar, La., and Pensacola, Fla., remained open.
Flint Hills Resources has closed its corporate offices in the The Woodlands, but its production facility in inland Longview was still operating as of the afternoon of Aug. 28.
Dow Chemical Co. had shut down its Seadrift operations which produces PE resin and a range of specialty chemicals. But operations continued at its massive Freeport complex, which is a major supplier of both ethylene and PE resins, a company spokesman said Aug. 28.
Dow also pledged $1 million “to support immediate relief and long-term recovery and rebuilding efforts associated with the storm and its aftermath,” in an Aug. 29 news release.
Harvey came ashore as a Category 4 hurricane Aug. 25 near Rockport, Texas, just northeast of Corpus Christi, along the same stretch of the Texas coast as multiple materials plants.
LyondellBasell Industries announced Aug. 25 that it is conducting a controlled shutdown of its Texas sites in Matagorda, Victoria, Chocolate Bayou and Corpus Christi. The company also has taken steps to address potential flooding at its Houston refinery and its La Porte, Bayport and Channelview complexes, and its Lake Charles polymers plant in Louisiana.
The heavily used Houston Ship Channel has been closed to inbound traffic.
All vessel activity also has been suspended at Corpus Christi, Texas, where M&G Group is building a massive PET resin and feedstocks unit. M&G closed its operations in Corpus Christi on Aug. 24.
Port activity in Corpus Christi is expected to resume on Sept. 4. Officials said the area experienced “light to moderate damage” from the storm. They added that power has been restored to several facilities and numerous others are still on emergency power.
Reports from the coastal region showed extensive wind damage, but the bigger threat at the start of this week came from massive flooding inundating major cities inland, especially Houston, where some areas received more than 4 feet of rain since Aug. 24.
Houston-based recycler/compounder Birch Plastics also has closed temporarily because of the impact of the storm, owner Rob Lang said in an email to Plastics News.
PetroChem Wire also said that resin shipments could be affected by Union Pacific Railroad’s announcement that it will be issuing embargoes, beginning with all traffic destined to Houston and surrounding areas. The railroad said that customers should consider diversions of routes where feasible. Facility switching in Houston and surrounding areas will remain suspended for at least another 48-72 hours.
In an Aug. 25 email, Dave Witte, a senior vice president with the IHS Markit consulting firm in Houston, said that Houston-area flooding also could result in power outages that could last a week.
“More importantly,” he added. “The supply chain will be impacted, as logistics in and out of Houston by rail, truck and the Port of Houston will be affected as will the ability of the workforce to recover and run these facilities.”
Find other Hurricane Harvey stories here: