August 26, 2011 / 4:15 PM / in 6 years

U.S. East Coast energy firms gird for Irene

* New York Harbor operating normally for now

* Colonial oil pipeline expects some disruptions

* Several coastal oil terminals to close

* Refineries plan to brave the storm, continue operating

* Expert says 5 to 7 million people could lose power

By Joshua Schneyer

NEW YORK, Aug 26 (Reuters) - Operators of oil, natural gas and power infrastructure in the densely-populated U.S. Northeast activated emergency plans ahead of Hurricane Irene and warned of potential supply disruptions, but most continued to operate normally on Friday.

The U.S. Coast Guard said it had no immediate plan to shut the New York Harbor, a delivery hub for millions of barrels a day in oil products. The harbor handles shipments from ocean-going ships, barges and pipelines.

But the 2.37 million barrel per day Colonial Pipeline system, which delivers oil products to New York Harbor as well as other East Coast locations like Virginia and Maryland, said it expects operations to be partially affected as some coastal oil terminals shut down to gird against Irene.

Pipeline and terminal operator Magellan Midstream partners (MMP.N) was shutting petroleum terminals in North Carolina and Virginia on Friday.

Steve Baker, a spokesman for Colonial Pipeline, which ends in New York Harbor, said the company was preparing its facilities. “We don’t expect impact until Saturday.” he said.

As Irene bore down on North Carolina on Friday, tens of thousands of people evacuated and East Coast cities including New York braced for a possible weekend battering from the Category 2 storm, with winds between 96 and 110 miles per hour (154-177 kph) and storm surges of 6 to 8 feet (1.8-2.4 meters).

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Friday warned East Coast inhabitants to expect extensive power outages.

A Deutsche Bank report compiled by an in-house meteorologist said Irene posed a risk of leaving 5 to 7 million people without power along the Eastern Seaboard. It warned storm surges could be exacerbated by unusually high tides due to a new moon on Aug. 28, raising the risk of flooding. <^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ FACTBOX-East Coast energy infrastructure: [ID:nN1E77O0I1] Reuters Hurricane Tracker r.reuters.com/san78n National Hurricane Center www.nhc.noaa.gov ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^>

    REFINERIES LOOK TO BRAVE STORM

    East Coast oil refineries said they were preparing for Irene, but were operating normally as of Friday.

    The region, also known as PADD I, holds refining capacity of around 1.62 million bpd.

    ConocoPhillips (COP.N) was continuing to run its East Coast refineries as it prepared for bad weather, said spokeswoman Janet Grothe. The oil major operates the 238,000 bpd Bayway refinery in Linden, New Jersey, and a 185,000 bpd plant in Trainer, Pennsylvania.

    Another refiner, Hess (HES.N) said it was preparing its 70,000 bpd New Jersey plant and associated oil terminals for high winds and storm water, but planned to operate them through the storm.

    PBF, with a 160,000 bpd refinery in Philadelphia and a 182,000 bpd plant in Paulsboro, New Jersey, said it has no immediate plans to reduce or alter its crude processing due to Irene. Another major refiner, Sunoco (SUN.N) did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

    Prices of front-month gasoline futures RBU1 for delivery in New York Harbor retreated by 0.9 percent in Friday trading, after gaining more than 3 percent on Thursday on fears that Irene would disrupt supply.

    In the Bahamas, which was pounded by Irene on Thursday, Buckeye Partners (BPL.N) said its 21.6 million barrel Borco oil terminal, which is a major transatlantic shipping point, suffered no visible damage but remained closed following the storm. (Additional reporting by Janet McGurty, Selam Gebrekidan, Jeanine Prezioso, Joe Silha, Eileen Moustakis, David Sheppard, Robert Gibbons, and Kristen Hays; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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