The most intense hurricane ever to hit Louisiana swept through one of the nation’s largest chemical, petroleum, and natural gas hubs. And while it could be days or weeks before the full extent of the storm’s impact becomes apparent, early reports of damage have raised concerns about the vulnerability of the region’s fossil fuel infrastructure to severe storms.
On Monday, officials warned that flooding had spilled over a temporary levee built near a Phillips 66 refinery in Plaquemines, the state’s southernmost parish and one of the hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina 16 years ago. In neighboring St. Bernard Parish, nearly two dozen barges loosened by Hurricane Ida’s 150-mph winds damaged the dock at the massive Valero refinery. News photos showed extensive flooding and dark flares at Shell’s refining and chemicals complex in Norco, further inland.
Previous hurricanes, including Harvey in 2017 and Laura in 2020, have released oil and chemicals from storage tanks and other installations along the coast.
Bernardo Fallas, a spokesperson for Phillips 66, said the company will conduct “a post-storm evaluation of the refinery and levees when it is safe to do so.” The refinery “completed a safe and orderly shutdown of operations” before Ida’s arrival, he said.
Louisiana’s 17 oil refineries account for nearly one-fifth of the country’s refining capacity, with the ability to process about 3.4 million barrels of crude oil per day, according to the United States Energy Information Administration. In 2020, Louisiana’s two liquefied natural gas export terminals shipped about 55 percent of the country’s LNG exports.
Much of that capacity was built after Katrina, and plans are in the works for a dozen more liquefied natural gas export terminals in the region, including at Port Fourchon, where Ida made landfall on Sunday. Environmental groups have criticized those plans, saying they contribute to the climate crisis threatening those facilities.