• May 31, 2019

    U.S. Energy Industry Prepared for 2019 Hurricane Season

    Matt Letourneau

Thanks to a diverse supply chain and ongoing industry efforts to harden our nation’s critical energy infrastructure, Americans can depend on a flexible and resilient fuel delivery system as we approach the start of this year’s hurricane season.  

This starts with a geographic diversity in our resources, and adequate electricity and pipeline infrastructure allowing energy providers to bring energy into areas that are impacted by a storm.

We saw this first-hand last year when Hurricane Harvey impacted the Gulf and the refining infrastructure and pipelines along the Gulf Coast and in Texas. While there were a few hiccups in the immediate aftermath of the storm, the energy supply chain reacted to ensure markets impacted by this tragic storm had the fuel supply needed to facilitate response efforts and meet many consumer needs.

For example, during the extreme case of Hurricane Harvey, when 22 percent of the oil produced in the Gulf was shut down, nearly 24 days of strategic petroleum reserves helped cover the disruption in production. And as for natural gas, abundant shale gas from the Appalachian Basin has made us far less dependent on the Gulf for natural gas supply, mitigating the risk from hurricane-induced outages.

In addition, oil tankers carrying imported crude oil can be diverted to other U.S. ports in the event of port closures along the Gulf or other impacted regions – while pipelines also carry refined products into the states.

The electric grid is also vulnerable during strong storms due to above ground transmission lines. However, as utility crews work around the clock to repair damaged infrastructure and restore service to customers, sustained energy production continues to ensure the supply is available to meet demand.

Electric companies invest more than $100 billion each year to make the energy grid smarter, stronger, cleaner, more dynamic and more secure, according to the Edison Electric Institute. The growing deployment of smart meters – now covering more than 60 percent of all U.S. households – enhances restoration efforts following an outage by offering utilities and system operators’ real-time visibility into customer disruptions.

Natural gas service is uniquely reliable because most infrastructure is underground, and because the vast, interconnected pipeline network allows for multiple pathways to reroute natural gas deliveries in the event of a disruption. Parallel pipelines, the geographic diversity of production and storage facilities and the compressibility of natural gas also enhance the resource’s flexibility and reliability. According to a recent report by the Natural Gas Council, Natural Gas: Reliable and Resilient, during both Hurricane Harvey and Superstorm Sandy in 2012, the U.S. natural gas pipeline network remained operational and continued to deliver gas safely and efficiently to impacted Americans.

Aside from energy supply, the U.S. energy industry goes above and beyond to address other constraints and issues during and after storms, working directly with local communities. After Hurricane Harvey, for example, many companies stepped up to provide unconventional services. ExxonMobil employees worked to provide piping and infrastructure that would offer more than 100,000 residents access to clean water; Hess Corporation enlisted a team of chefs to prepare and distribute more than 11,000 meals to impacted neighbors; a team at Shell deployed an enormous pump to save hundreds of homes and businesses from flooding. (View videos highlighting these stories and more on our #EnergyStrong page.)

Each hurricane season, the industry learns and incorporates new preparation methods for the following year. Our nation could further enhance security, reliability and resilience by addressing infrastructure constraints and further diversifying with new and expanded pipelines and other critical energy infrastructure. Building new manufacturing and petrochemical plants in the Appalachian Basin, atop the Marcellus and Utica Shale reserves and away from the Gulf, is another way to diversify our domestic energy supply chain and mitigate disruptions that impact commerce.

We can’t prevent hurricanes, but we can and will continue to strengthen our energy delivery system by hardening our infrastructure and incorporating lessons learned to minimize the degree and duration of supply disruptions.  If there is a significant storm somewhere in the United States this summer, GEI will share updates, reporting outages and damage, as well as mitigation and relief efforts by impacted energy companies and utilities.