NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City braced for potentially widespread blackouts as Hurricane Irene churned up the East Coast on Saturday, after leaving almost 1 million people without power in U.S. coastal states further south.
East Coast oil refineries, pipelines and fuel terminals curtailed operations to ensure safety. The U.S. Coast Guard shut the Port of Philadelphia, an oil shipment hub, but kept the larger hub at New York Harbor open for now.
Utility firms warned of more outages ahead, with Consolidated Edison considering pre-emptive blackouts on Sunday in flood-prone downtown Manhattan, including on Wall Street.
Power was cut to large swaths of Virginia and North Carolina after Irene pounded the coast and forced the Brunswick nuclear power plant to scale back activities.
The 1,875-megawatt Southport, North Carolina-based plant sustained no damage, but electricity supplied from its two nuclear reactors was cut by 25 to 35 percent, to ensure they can keep running through the storm, said operator Progress Energy.
Progress said 275,000 customers were without power in North Carolina. Dominion Resources said 600,000 of its customers lost power in North Carolina and Virginia. Outages also hit parts of Maryland and Delaware.
In New York City, which was bracing for Irene’s impact late on Saturday into Sunday, intermittent rains began in the afternoon but the power grid suffered few disruptions so far.
That could change as storm surges cause flooding.
“Make sure you know where your flashlights are,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned New Yorkers at a storm briefing on Saturday.
Utility Consolidated Edison said it wouldn’t shut down the city’s power pre-emptively, but could cut power early on Sunday in low-lying parts of Manhattan, including to 6,000 homes or businesses south of the Brooklyn Bridge. The area includes New York’s Financial District.
Irene howled ashore in North Carolina on Saturday, weakening to a Category 1 hurricane, and was expected to hit the mid-Atlantic states on Saturday night and New England on Sunday.
Some oil refineries in the U.S. Northeast — home to 1.2 million barrels per day of capacity — scaled back operations as a precaution, and pipeline operators warned of potential delays for fuel distribution ahead.
ConocoPhillips has cut rates at its 185,000 barrel per day (bpd) Trainer, Pennsylvania, refinery, sources said on Saturday. On Friday, rates were cut by 25 percent at Sunoco’s Marcus Hook plant in Pennsylvania, sources said.
The U.S. Coast Guard closed the Port of Philadelphia, a major oil hub which typically handles 1 million barrels a day. At 4:00 p.m. EDT (2000 GMT) it said gale force winds were expected at the port within 12 hours.
The New York Harbor, a major delivery hub for crude oil and fuels by pipeline, barge and ship, remained open on Saturday.
The largest U.S. refined oil product pipeline, the 2.37 million bpd Colonial that runs from the Gulf Coast to New York, continued operating but warned of potential disruptions to customers along its path after several coastal oil terminals were forced to shut.
Although storm-related shipping interruptions could delay oil deliveries to the East Coast, or PADD 1, the region’s plentiful crude and fuel inventories lessen the risk of any major supply shortage.
Trade group National Petrochemical and Refiners Association said on Friday that the region’s oil terminals held 23 days of gasoline supply and 46 days supply of diesel and heating oil.
Around nine days of crude supply were held in the region’s terminals, according to Energy Department data from last week.
Reporting by Janet McGurty, Jeanine Prezioso, David Sheppard and Selam Gebrekidan; Writing by Joshua Schneyer; Editing by Jackie Frank and Todd Eastham