Hurricane Rita's turn to the east greatly reduced its impact on plastics and chemicals plants on the Gulf Coast. But the aftereffects of the storm - power outages, limited raw materials and scrambled transportation networks - continue to affect large amounts of North American resin capacity.
The storm weakened as it hit land early Sept. 24, but still was a Category 3 hurricane with winds peaking at 125 mph. The move east spared major petrochemicals sites in the Houston/Galveston region.
Dow Chemical Co. - with six production sites in the area - reported ``no significant structural damage'' to its plants. All of Dow's plants were evacuated more than 24 hours before Rita hit.
ExxonMobil Chemical Co. - and its major plastics, chemicals and refining operations in Baytown and Beaumont, Texas - likewise reported that damage ``does not appear to be severe.''
In Geismar, La., Westlake Chemical Corp. began operating its PVC and vinyl chloride monomer plant at reduced rates Sept. 29. The firm's PE and olefins site in Lake Charles, La., remains down until electrical power is restored, officials said.
Elsewhere, plants operated by Georgia Gulf Corp. in Plaquemine and Lake Charles, La., remained closed as of Sept. 28. The Plaquemine site makes PVC resin, vinyl chloride monomer and other specialty chemicals, while the Lake Charles plant makes only VCM. Atlanta-based GGC has declared force majeure on PVC and caustic soda.
DuPont Co. of Wilmington, Del., also has declared force majeure on ethylene copolymers made at its Orange, Texas, site because of storm-related issues.
As the North American market looks to recover from Rita and Hurricane Katrina - which blasted Louisiana and Mississippi less than a month earlier - there's a lot of uncertainty as to when supplies of raw materials will be restored. Resin makers' ability to deliver material to customers on damaged or submerged rail lines also is in question.
Dow officials said raw material supplies and transportation logistics ``are expected to present a continuing challenge to the industry throughout the region.''
The impact on the overall resin market was highlighted in a Sept. 27 report from Chemical Market Associates Inc., a consulting firm in Houston.
According to CMAI, 55 percent of North American HDPE was shut down or operating at reduced rates. The percentage down for LDPE was almost 37 percent, while LLDPE was 67 percent.
In polypropylene, CMAI estimated that 32 percent of North American capacity was affected by the hurricanes, and more than 43 percent of PVC.
Large amounts of plastics feedstocks ethylene, propylene, butadiene, benzene, phenol, paraxylene and styrene also were down or at reduced rates, according to CMAI.
On Sept. 28, 77 percent of the region's natural gas capacity remained out of operation, according to a Department of Energy report. More than 400,000 electricity customers remained without power in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, according to DOE.