UCS Report – Oil Refineries at Risk of Floods and Storms

In a recent report, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) say that coastal energy facilities are at increased risk of floods from sea levels rises and storm surges.

The report, called “Stormy Seas, Rising Risks – What Investors Should Know About Climate Change Impacts at Oil Refineries” was published in February 2015. It says:

“Fossil fuel energy companies face tremendous risks from the impacts of climate change. Sea level rise and enhanced storm surge can damage or destroy coastal energy facilities, curtail production (or stop it altogether), and inundate nearby communities”.

According to UCS, oil refineries are especially vulnerable, as they often sit on low-lying land. The report points to the failure of companies to disclose such vulnerabilities, but also to prepare for such risks.

“When companies neglect to disclose and prepare for these risks, they face greater potential for spills and other damages caused or made worse by climate impacts. Investors, taxpayers, and communities should not have to bear the burden of this failure.”

Impacts on Gasoline Prices

Refining outages have had significant impacts on gasoline prices and in turn have affected the U.S. economy as a whole. In 2005, for example, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita shut down 23% of US refining capacity, according to the report, resulting in a 50 percent jump in the weekly average spot price of conventional gasoline.

Gulf Coast most Vulnerable

UCS point to the vulnerability of the US Gulf Coast to sea level rises and storm surges. The Gulf Coast is also home to many of the country’s oil refineries.

“…large swaths of the coast from Mississippi to Texas, are subsiding Louisiana, for example, has lost 1,900 square miles of land since the 1930s. Parts of the Houston area have sunk by more than seven feet in 100 years.”

Communities at Risk

Many of the risks that energy companies and their investors face are shared by communities located near petroleum refineries. The report says about 18.5 million people live in the vulnerability zones around refining facilities.

Flooded Phillips 66 Alliance Refinery Slick and sheen visible on floodwaters at the Phillips 66 Alliance Refinery near Belle Chasse, La.   Photo Credit–Jonathan Henderson, Gulf Restoration Network; Flight provided by Southern Seaplanes  Photo: John amos https://www.flickr.com/photos/skytruth/9449904895/in/set-72157634960090866
Flooded Phillips 66 Alliance Refinery
Slick and sheen visible on floodwaters at the Phillips 66 Alliance Refinery near Belle Chasse, La.
Photo Credit–Jonathan Henderson, Gulf Restoration Network; Flight provided by Southern Seaplanes
Photo: John Amos

Oil Refineries in the Study

Valero Meraux Refinery, LA

St. Bernard Parish, just outside of New Orleans, Louisiana, was contaminated with oil when the then Murphy Oil-owned Meraux refinery was severely damaged by storm surge during Hurricane Katrina. The refinery spilled 25,000 barrels of oil. Meraux city canals and more than a square mile of neighborhood was contaminated.

Meraux Refinery near New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Ohoto: FEMA / Patsy Lynch
Meraux Refinery near New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Photo: FEMA / Patsy Lynch
Phillips 66 Linden, NJ

After Superstorm Sandy hit in 2012, some 7,800 gallons of oil spilled at its Bayway refinery in Linden, New Jersey. The refinery was shut down for three weeks because of flood damage and power outages from the storm.

Exxon Mobil Baytown, TX

The Baytown complex in Texas is the largest petroleum and petrochemical complex in the United States. In 2005, Hurricane Rita caused both the Baytown and Beaumont facilities to shut down, according to the report.

Hurricane Katrina also caused major damage to the Chalmette refinery, causing it to shut down for many months. UCS say that, with continued sea level rise as well as potential increases in storm intensity as the climate warms, future shutdowns are likely.

Chevron Pascagoula, MS

Chevron’s Pascagoula refinery is at risk for current storm damage and future impacts both of sea level rise and storm surge. UCS say that this facility has already seen costs associated with storm damage; Hurricane Katrina caused major problems and an extended shutdown of the facility.

See the full UCS report here

Feature photo: Anacortes Oil Refinery. Photo credit: Ryan Healey