March 18, 2020 / 3:00 PM / 16 days ago

U.S. oil and gas industry sees no supply chain threat from coronavirus: API

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The American Petroleum Institute oil and gas industry group said on Wednesday that it does not see a significant threat to the U.S. energy supply chain from the coronavirus pandemic.

Pump jacks operate at sunset in Midland, Texas, U.S., February 11, 2019. REUTERS/Nick Oxford/File Photo

Oil and gas companies are implementing contingency plans focused on ensuring continuity of supplies to market, and preventing the spread of the virus to workers and the public, Suzanne Lemieux, API’s head of operations security, told reporters in a conference call with representatives of several energy industry trade groups.

“The supply chain is operating as normal now and you’re going to see that continuing unless there is any additional ... shelter-in-place restrictions or larger outbreaks,” Lemieux said. “This is not a new planning scenario for a lot of our member companies, but we are trying to be as cautious as possible,” she said, adding that many of its members have dealt with previous outbreaks such as Ebola, SARS and H1N1.

Troutman Sanders, a law firm that advises pipeline companies, said in a blog this week that coronavirus may cause issues with “maintaining sufficient adequately trained and qualified staff for control rooms or field positions responsible for inspection and maintenance” and that the federal government has issued compliance waivers to companies in the past.

John Stoody, a vice president at the Association of Oil Pipelines, said companies were working with the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration on whether waivers would be necessary for work rules on pipeline control rooms.

Stoody said such communications with federal officials are normal during hurricanes and other emergencies. “So far our partners have been great in acknowledging the potential need,” for waivers, or other measures, he said.

Lemieux said the API would work with the Energy Department and Environmental Protection Agency on whether waivers to environmental regulations were needed to help get fuel to market.

“We’re still speaking with our members to understand what their limitations are,” she said.

The energy groups also said many companies have ability to move workers from other parts of states or across states if employees in one place get coronavirus or are quarantined by it.

Andrew Lu, a managing director of operations at the American Gas Association, said that natural gas utilities can move employees and are also looking at the possibility of using contractors to backfill positions if needed, or calling on mutual personnel or equipment assistance from other utilities.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner, Editing by Richard Valdmanis, Chizu Nomiyama and Marguerita Choy

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