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U.S. Gulf Coast refineries brace for severe cold

U.S. Gulf Coast refineries from south Texas to central Louisiana were preparing for severe cold weather as early as Thursday night, said sources familiar with preparations at the plants, nearly a year after a winter storm crippled the country’s top refining hub.

The nation’s largest refiner, Marathon Petroleum Corp MPC.N, whose two largest plants, one each in Louisiana and Texas, have a combined crude oil processing capacity of 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd), also said it was bracing for the cold.

“The safety of our employees, contractors, and the community is our top priority, and we have comprehensive plans and procedures in place in the event of inclement weather,” said Marathon spokesman Jamal Kheiry.

Kheiry declined to discuss the specific steps the refineries are taking to prepare for temperatures below freezing.

Workers were wrapping exposed instruments needed to monitor equipment and water pipes, the sources said. Some equipment protection was done earlier in the year.

The combined capacity of the refineries in Texas and Louisiana that will face freezing temperatures is nearly 7 million bpd or 38% of national capacity.

In mid-February 2021, Winter Storm Uri knocked out production at Texas refineries by cutting electrical power and natural gas supplies.

“The record-breaking Arctic cold that flowed deep into Texas in mid-February (2021) hit the Texas refining and petrochemical sectors as hard as any hurricane and with less warning,” the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas said in its second-quarter 2021 report.

Refinery production in February 2021 fell to an average 3.9 million bpd from 7.8 million bpd in the previous month, according to the Dallas Fed.

“Operations did not fully return until early April and sustained lasting damage,” the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank said. Uri knocked out power generation plants, natural gas production and pipelines that supply power plants.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has said the electric grid is prepared for the this year’s cold weather, but outages may occur as ice from freezing rain knocks down power lines.
Source: Reuters (Reporting by Erwin Seba Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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