It’s a scramble to restore oil industry power after storm

When a hurricane hits, it generates a host of problems for oil and gas companies and for  the electric utilities that power them.

The biggest worry for power companies is that a generation facility will be knocked offline, potentially cutting power to  millions of customers, an Entergy executive said  Wednesday during a Gulf Coast Power Association special briefing at CenterPoint Energy Tower downtown.

“What scares me the most is losing generation close by,” said Greg Grillo, the system storm incident commander for Entergy–which lost 2,000 megawatts of generation capacity  when its Sabine plant went offline due to flooding from Hurricane Ike in 2008.  One megawatt can power about  200 Texas homes during peak summer demand.

The Gulf Coast is home to close to half of the country’s refineries, and Texas alone has 26 that collectively process 4.8 million barrels of crude a day. A quarter of the nation’s natural gas also is produced in Texas, which means a big storm can deliver a big hit to the nation’s energy supply.

After a hurricane, Entergy focuses on getting its generators restored, then on repairing major  transmission lines. It then concentrates on the substations that provide power to emergency services, such as hospitals, police and communications networks.

Entergy then works on restoring power on large density neighborhoods, followed up individual residents in more spread out locations.

After Hurricane Ike struck, Entergy brought in more than 12,000 workers from around the country to help repair lines and substations, requiring the company to build temporary tent cities to house and feed the emergency workers.

“It is like having an army come together,” Grillo said. “You are only as good as your last restoration effort.”

Entergy is a regulated utility, operating outside of the deregulated grid that serves  most of Texas, but it can tie into the grid in emergencies, and did so in the aftermath of  Hurricane Ike.

Since refineries and petrochemical plants may be knocked offline by storm damage, one of Entergy’s first tasks is determining which plants can operate and getting power to those facilities — and to pipelines that serve them.

“If the power is out for any length of time, pipelines start getting impacted that move the fuel,” Grillo said. “You have to look at what they are feeding. If you get power back to refinery and they are producing, you also need to work with the upstream customers to make sure that what the refineries are producing can be pumped .”