We are a few weeks into the 2018 hurricane season, and forecasters say this season could be an active one. Last year’s devastating Hurricane Harvey is the most recent reminder of just how important fuel supplies are to our daily lives. The men and women in the Texas oil and natural gas industry and its public and private sector partners are ready.
After Hurricane Rita in 2005, Texas created the Task Force on Evacuation, Transportation and Logistics, which developed a comprehensive slate of recommendations to fortify hurricane preparedness, response and recovery plans. Since then, Texas has become nationally renowned for our “lessons learned” approach of revisiting and strengthening hurricane plans and procedures as technology and best practices evolve.
As part of ongoing work to innovate and improve, the energy sector is part of a collaborative effort among private and public sector entities such as the Department of Public Safety, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas Railroad Commission, Texas Department of Transportation, Texas ports, FEMA, health care facilities and local emergency management officials. The oil and natural gas industry is part of the Fuel Team, which works with the Emergency Management Council to ensure Texans have sufficient access to the gasoline and diesel they need before, during and after a natural disaster.
Hurricane Harvey was a unique beast. Despite unprecedented challenges that accompany a 1,000-year flood, the oil and natural gas industry’s plans worked, and disruptions were minimized as operators responded rapidly to meet Texans’ fuel needs. The industry evaluates and refines its preparedness and recovery plans after every natural disaster.
Keeping people, communities and facilities safe is the top priority. Sometimes it is necessary to shut down a refinery or terminal before a storm makes landfall for human and environmental safety. Other times, the storm itself may cause damage at these facilities. Comprehensive damage assessments, safety reviews, and personnel and equipment deployment must be completed before critical fuel infrastructure can be brought back online.
Refineries, terminals and pipeline systems are large and complex, and restoring them safely takes time.
As Texans know well, floods, hurricanes and other natural disasters create significant disruption in access to roads, power, cell service, groceries and fuels. So it is important to be prepared and be patient. When the power comes on, not everything is back to business. Across the country, 96 percent of gas stations are independently owned and of those, 64 percent are made up of individual business owners. Often small-business gas station owners can only get to their stores when power is restored to assess damages. Even then, the store may not be operational.
To a passerby, it may seem like critical infrastructure and services are back online and operational once power is restored. That’s not always the case. Texas’ fuel system needs people, power, ports, pipelines, trucks, refineries and raw materials to make and deliver fuel. That is why patience and conservation are important during recovery.
Not being able to go to your neighborhood gas station doesn’t always mean there’s no fuel. It’s important to keep calm and try another station, or return the next day. Fuel is often refueled daily in larger markets. Runs on fuel can further disrupt the market, interfering with access for the public and first responders.
From the wellhead to off-shore platforms, across pipeline miles to refining complexes, the oil and natural gas industry takes seriously our responsibility to prepare for, endure and restart when a storm hits. We work year-round to be ready. Texans can help themselves and their neighbors by maintaining normal routines and not overbuying fuel before or after a storm.
As we move through the 2018 hurricane season, preparation, conservation and patience after a storm will be central to our collective success.