In response to Hurricane Isaac, EIA invoked its emergency-activation survey Form EIA-757B to collect daily data on the status of natural gas processing plant operations.
The survey, completed Friday, September 7, showed that Hurricane Isaac caused considerable disruption to processing infrastructure, although it had a negligible effect on natural gas prices because of ample onshore production and surplus storage.
The last time EIA invoked Form EIA-757B was for Hurricane Ike in September and October 2008. Hurricane Isaac made landfall on the evening of August 28, 2012, and ultimately disrupted natural gas processing operations for more than 10 of the 13.5 billion cubic feet (Bcf) per day of total processing capacity in the affected area. The survey captured plants with capacities greater than 100 million cubic feet per day.
The bar chart shows five items:
- Operational capacity (green): Sum of capacity of natural gas processing plants in the path of Isaac that was operating at normal levels
- Reduced capacity (yellow): Capacity that was processing gas at a reduced rate relative to pre-Isaac levels
- Ready to resume capacity (orange): Capacity that was able to process natural gas but was not currently receiving adequate volumes of gas from upstream to justify starting up the plant, or did not have a downstream delivery point able to accept its products
- Shut-in capacity (red): Capacity that was unable to process gas because of damaged plant infrastructure or power outages
- Maintenance capacity (brown): Capacity that was shut down for maintenance because of reasons unrelated to Isaac
Data collected on this survey are compiled with other data and used to provide critical information on the status of energy infrastructure to policy makers, emergency response teams, media, individuals, and businesses in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Situation Report.
Just prior to Isaac making landfall, there were 25 natural gas processing plants in the affected area that were not undergoing maintenance, accounting for 12.6 billion cubic feet per day of available processing capacity. However, widespread power outages (affecting nearly 890,000 customers in Louisiana), reduced gas flows, and the potential for flooding reduced or curtailed operations at many of these plants. Plants most commonly attributed closures to a lack of upstream supply, although a few also cited damage to downstream infrastructure that would receive their dry gas or their natural gas liquids products.
Processing facilities play a key role in the overall natural gas supply chain because they purify and “dry out” raw natural gas from producing wells. This process results in pipeline-quality natural gas for delivery to end-users and a mix of natural gas liquids products to be separated by fractionators.
The Department of Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s final update on the effects of Isaac on offshore oil and natural gas operations, released on September 11, 2012, indicated that less than 5% of Gulf of Mexico oil and natural gas production remained shut in.
The Federal Gulf of Mexico has accounted for a progressively smaller share of U.S. natural gas production in recent years. This is because of steadily declining offshore production volumes in the Gulf, combined with growth of shale gas production in various onshore basins and improved pipeline infrastructure to deliver that gas to market.
In 2000, Federal GOM gross natural gas production accounted for more than 20% of total U.S. gross natural gas production; in 2011, Federal GOM represented only 6% of total U.S. gross natural gas production. As a result of these historically low levels of offshore production, increases in onshore production, and strong natural gas storage stocks, Isaac-related shut ins have had little effect on natural gas prices or on gas supply for areas outside the path of the hurricane.
A deckhand prepares to secure a boat Friday at Port Fourchon. The port received minimal damage from Hurricane Isaac, the facility’s director says. Abby Tabor/Staff
Xerxes A. Wilson
PORT FOURCHON — Hurricane Isaac could have been worse at this hub for boats, rigs and manpower that serve most of the Gulf of Mexico’s oilfield.
The port shut down Monday as a mandatory evacuation was ordered in advance of the storm. Isaac dealt a direct hit to the port early Wednesday, but the facility reopened two days later, emerging with what officials describe as minor damage.
Electricity was still out Sunday, but Director Chett Chiasson said the docks, supply yards and other facilities buzzed with activity.
“Our biggest concern was the possibility of channel restrictions and damages to facilities where we would not be able to operate efficiently,” he said, “but that doesn’t seem to have happened.”
Getting the port running was key to allow Gulf oil production to continue, he said.
As Isaac hit, the Federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement estimated that 509 of the 596 oil-production platforms and 50 of the 76 drilling rigs the Gulf had been evacuated. By Sunday, workers remain evacuated from 131 platforms, 22 percent, and 18 rigs, 23 percent. About 71 percent of Gulf oil production and 55 percent of natural-gas production remained halted Sunday.
Through the weekend, massive oceangoing vessels could be seen navigating the port’s channels as gulf oil production resumes.
The port serves as a staging area for half the drilling rigs in the Gulf and production of about 20 percent of the nation’s oil supply, Chiasson said. Supplies, equipment and rig infrastructure are typically brought into the port by truck along La. 1 then loaded onto towering vessels before being transported to the Gulf.
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