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September 18, 2008
Also appeared in print Sep. 22, 2008, p. 13


Texas Weathers Ike

Many chemical plants, academic institutions remain shut down in hurricane???s wake

Rick Mullin and Elizabeth K. Wilson

Hurricane Ike, a huge Category 2 storm that leveled neighborhoods east of Galveston, Texas, and took out power and services on a large stretch of the Texas Gulf Coast, did not appear to significantly impact chemical facilities. Companies were still inspecting damage last week, however, and several declared force majeure, a common clause in contracts that frees both parties when extraordinary events occur.

Julio Cortez/Houston Chronicle/Rapport Press
Dow Chemical's Freeport, Texas, plant stayed lit during the storm, thanks to on-site power generation.

"We have not heard anything that causes us longer term concern," says Gary Adams, president of the Houston-based petrochemical consulting firm Chemical Market Associates Inc. Adams says industry in the region was well prepared. "These are very sophisticated companies that have been through these kinds of hurricanes many times before, and they know how to prepare for them."

Nearly all petrochemical and refinery operations from Corpus Christi to the Louisiana border were shut down ahead of the storm, according to CMAI. Now, companies are assessing feedstock supply, utility services, logistics, and personnel availability to determine when facilities will restart.

Dow Chemical reported no apparent significant structural damage to its Texas Gulf Coast plants, including sites in Freeport, Clear Lake, LaPorte, Texas City, and Seadrift. "The company has now mobilized maintenance and operations teams to bring utilities back on-line as soon as it is safe to do so," the company says in a statement, adding that start-up operations could take several weeks.

Solutia, which has a plant in Alvin, and Huntsman Corp., which operates five plants in the area, made similar announcements. "I???m pleased to say that damage to our plants appears to have been less than we might have expected, given the storm's severity," says Huntsman CEO Peter R. Huntsman.

International Specialty Products declared force majeure on contracts in its ISP Elastomers business in Port Neches. "At this point, we are still assessing damage to the plant, and it is too early to be able to predict when we will be able to restart production," says Tim Gorman, vice president for elastomers.

Likewise, AkzoNobel declared force majeure for metal alkyl products manufactured in Deer Park. The company has implemented a volume allocation program, according to Karl A. Schoene, vice president for organometallic specialties. Although Ike caused less damage to universities in southeast Texas than Hurricane Rita did in 2005, some institutions—particularly the Lamar group of colleges and universities in Beaumont, Orange, and Port Arthur—sustained significant damage and remained closed at press time.

C&EN was unable to reach anyone at the Lamar institutions, but the Lamar Institute of Technology, in Beaumont, continues to be without power, according to its disaster recovery website. Most power has been restored to Lamar University, also in Beaumont, and the campus may re-open around Sept. 24, its website says.

Universities in Houston fared better. At Rice University, classes resumed on Sept. 15, according to chemistry department chair Seiichi Matsuda. "In general, the research labs are fine," Matsuda says. The high winds damaged trees, but buildings were relatively unscathed and backup power systems worked well, he says.

"Some of my students worked straight through, but, of course, those who are more dependent on instrumentation had to shut down for several days because of the threat of unreliable power," Matsuda says.

"ACS is reviewing how we can best help our members, students, and academic, government, and corporate institutions affected by the devastation wrought by Hurricane Ike," ACS President Bruce E. Bursten says. "Our hearts go out to those who have lost their homes, and our immediate concerns, beyond the health and safety of the residents, of course, will be in areas where we can help most effectively—in science, education, information technology, and communications. We will be releasing more information shortly. In the meantime, members are encouraged to donate to relevant agencies that are able to address immediate short-term disaster relief."

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Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2009 American Chemical Society


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