The U.S. is bracing for fuel shortages and higher prices at the pump as Hurricane Harvey floods forced the closure of major oil refineries in Houston, including the country’s largest oil refinery and busiest pipelines.
Motiva, the largest refinery in the U.S., said early Wednesday that it started closing its Port Arthur refinery “in response to local flood conditions” and that the plant would not reopen until the flood water receded. The plant had been operating on just 40 percent capacity on Tuesday. Half of the other refineries in and around the nation’s oil hub closed as well.
The refinery shutdowns prompted Colonial Pipeline to suspend fuel deliveries in its two main lines that push more than 100 million gallons of gasoline, heating oil, and aviation fuel from Houston terminals to New York Harbor and all points in between.
On Wednesday, Colonial Pipeline said it would suspend its pipeline that carries mostly diesel and jet fuel by the end of the day. The company said that the pipeline that hauls gasoline would be shut down on Thursday.
Colonial’s decision to suspend the main East Coast pipelines came as half the 26 refineries that supply the pipelines shut down because of severe flooding. Safety concerns were also a factor:
“Once Colonial is able to ensure that its facilities are safe to operate and refiners in Lake Charles and points east have the ability to move product to Colonial, our system will resume operations,” the operator said, according to CNN.
Commercial tanker trucks, barges, and alternate pipelines are all working to keep some fuel momentum going on the East Coast.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) suspended certain commercial regulations in Texas and Louisiana Aug. 25, to help expedite overland fuel transport both in response to emergencies and to keep fuel supplies moving to other points. The suspended regulations include anti-fatigue hours-of-service rules that restrict the number of driving hours for commercial drivers.
These exemptions apply to all state the drivers must travel through “on their route to the emergency, even though those states may not be involved in the emergency or stated in the declaration of emergency.”