August 25, 2011 / 6:34 PM / 9 years ago

U.S. East Coast energy firms brace for Irene impact

* Power companies warn of potential disruptions
    * East Coast nuclear plants take precautions
    * Natural gas suppliers warn of pipeline impact
    * Gasoline prices rise on potential NY Harbor closure
    By Joshua Schneyer
    NEW YORK, Aug 25 (Reuters) - From nuclear plants to
pipelines and refineries, energy firms on the U.S. East Coast
braced on Thursday for a potentially devastating Hurricane
Irene that could make landfall this weekend in North Carolina.
    Irene, a Category 3 hurricane barreling toward the most
densely populated part of the United States, is prompting
energy suppliers to secure equipment, put emergency plans in
action and warn customers about potential power disruptions.
    While the East Coast has no major oil and gas production
facilities like the hurricane-prone Gulf Coast, it is the site
of nuclear plants, a massive energy shipment hub at New York
Harbor, and huge oil and gas pipeline and power networks.
    "Irene appears set to deliver a major blow. Now is the time
to prepare for this major hurricane, as impacts appear
imminent," MDA EarthSat Weather said. It warned of potentially
prolonged power outages in the region, including New York City,
which could have winds over 75 miles per hour (120 km/hour).
    The National Hurricane Center said the eastern seaboard
from North Carolina northward was "well within" the path of
Irene, which could have an impact "well inland". The storm
pounded the Bahamas on Thursday, forcing the closure of major
oil terminals but not damaging them.
    Irene was still around 645 miles (1,040 km) south of North
    Progress Energy said it was taking safety precautions at
its two-unit Brunswick nuclear plant in Southport, North
Carolina, where the storm was expected to pass near early on
Saturday. The plant, 22 feet (6.7 metres) above sea level, is
built to withstand winds of 128 miles per hour.
    Nuclear plant operator Public Service Enterprise Group said
it was taking precautions including securing equipment against
powerful winds at its two-reactor Salem plant and its Hope
Creek plant, all along the Delaware River in Hancocks Bridge,
New Jersey.
    The firm said it could take reactors offline temporarily if
the storm causes water levels on the Delaware to rise rapidly.
    Checks "are being conducted for objects that could become
airborne", said Skip Sindoni, a spokesman for PSEG.
    The North Carolina and Virginia units of Dominion, which
operates power plants including nuclear facilities, said they
were gearing up to deal safely with Irene. Dominion warned on
Thursday that Irene had "serious potential to cause widespread
damage" in the region.
    Futures prices of gasoline for delivery in the New York
Harbor rose nearly 3 percent on Thursday, with analysts citing
a potential closure of the harbor in coming days as propping
them up.
    The U.S. Coast Guard has yet to implement any restrictions
on ship traffic in New York Harbor but is closely monitoring
the track of the storm, a spokeswoman said.
    Tug-boat operator Bouchard Transportation said it expected
the Coast Guard to close the harbor over the next one to four
days. That could result in a one-week backlog of ships and
barges trying to unload cargoes of crude or oil products in the
hub, which handles millions of barrels a day, it said.
    The East Coast region, known as PADD I, is the second
smallest of the five U.S. refining regions, with most of its
fuel shipped up by pipeline from the Gulf Coast or on tanker
ships from Europe.
    Six refineries and numerous storage and oil shipping
terminals operate on or near the coast, while New York Harbor
serves as a key delivery and pricing hub.
    Colonial Pipeline, a 2.37-million-barrels-per-day refined
oil product supply line, stretches 5,500 miles from Texas to
the New York Harbor. It also has spurs to other fuel hubs that
could be near the storm's path, including Baltimore, Maryland
and Roanoke, Virginia.
    A spokesman said the pipeline was preparing for the storm,
without citing specific measures.
    Kinder Morgan, a major U.S. pipeline operator, said it was
fueling vehicles, generators and pumps, and storing or securing
equipment. The firm operates oil storage and pipelines,
including several in New York Harbor.
    El Paso Corp warned that sections of its natural gas
pipeline network on the East Coast could be affected by Irene.
Its 14,000-mile Tennessee Gas Pipeline, which feeds into major
East Coast cities including New York, issued an order for
shippers using the line to adhere strictly to planned delivery
and receipt volumes.
    Pipeline and oil storage operator Magellan, which has oil
product terminals in East Coast locations including Connecticut
and Delaware, said its terminals were still open and making
preparations for the storm.
    Sunoco, the largest independent East Coast refiner, said it
was enacting a hurricane preparedness plan to "protect people
and the environment and minimize impacts to operations".  
    France's GDF Suez, which operates the Everett liquefied
natural gas terminal in Massachusetts, said its facility was
built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane with winds up to 150
miles per hour. It has not changed its shipping schedule due to
Irene, and has back-up power generation.
    As far north as Nova Scotia, Canada, Encana's Deep Panuke
gas development said it was closely monitoring Irene's course,
although no emergency plans or measures had been implemented at
the project set to start production later this year.
    In the hard-hit Bahamas, Buckeye Partners said its
21.6-million-barrel oil storage facility, known as Borco,
remained shut after the passage of Irene but was unscathed by
the storm. Borco is a major transshipment point for crude and
oil products in the Atlantic Basin, including between the
United States and Europe.
 (Additional reporting by Janet McGurty, Jeanine Prezioso,
Selam Gebrekidan, Kristen Hays, Bruce Nichols, Robert Gibbons,
Jeffrey Kerr, Jeffrey Jones, Eileen Moustakis and David
Sheppard; Editing by Dale Hudson)
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