August 31, 2017 / 9:56 PM / 2 years ago

Corpus Christi's storm-ravaged energy industry begins slow recovery

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Oil refiners and port facilities in Corpus Christi, Texas, were making strides resuming operations from Hurricane Harvey, but Houston and other Gulf Coast energy hubs remained flooded, officials said on Thursday.

Rescue boats navigate flood waters of Tropical Storm Harvey in Port Arthur, Texas, U.S. in a still image from video August 30, 2017. REUTERS/Greg Savoy

Their efforts, which could take weeks to complete, must be repeated across a broad swath of coastal Texas and Louisiana before America’s oil and fuel production can fully recover from deep cuts caused by record flooding.

Power has been restored to all four Corpus Christi-area oil refineries and the Army Corps of Engineers is conducting final surveys of the port’s waterways before fully reopening early next week, according to port officials.

“We are keeping our target of a full reopen by Sept. 4,” said Patricia Cardenas, a port spokeswoman.

Refiners Citgo Petroleum Corp [PDVSAC.UL], Flint Hills Resources [FHR.UL] and Valero Energy Corp are moving to restart their plants in Corpus Christi, as is the nearby Valero Three Rivers refinery, according to sources, company officials and filings.

On Thursday, energy industry intelligence service Genscape said the Flint Hills Corpus Christi refinery restarted its largest crude distillation unit, which feeds all other units at the refinery.

All were shut by Aug. 25, hours before Harvey roared ashore just north of the city with winds over 130 miles per hour (209 km per hour). Those four plants together have a capacity to refine 835,979 barrels of crude oil per day, or 4.4 percent of the nation’s total.

Nearly a quarter of U.S. refining output is offline in the wake of the storm, as other plants in Texas and Louisiana also shut.

On Thursday, the U.S. Coast Guard began allowing vessels with up to 43 feet (13.1 m) to enter the city’s port during daytime hours. Such vessels are able to hold about 500,000 barrels of oil. The Intracoastal Waterway between Corpus Christi and Brownsville, Texas, also is open, it added.

“Getting that port up and running is just so important,” said Cleo Rodriguez Jr., president and CEO of the United Chamber of Commerce of Corpus Christi. “It is the economic engine for the entire region.” Some $100 million of goods typically moves through the port daily, according to port officials. Rodriguez said he felt lucky Corpus Christi did not receive worse damage from Harvey, the most powerful storm to strike the state since 1961. “Our member businesses have reported significant losses here, but so far nothing huge or catastrophic,” he said. “Our neighbors, like Rockport, were not so lucky. There was complete devastation there.” He said he expected Corpus Christi business to mostly recover by the end of September.

Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and David Gregorio

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