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ILTA panel reviews fuel distribution disruptions caused in the Northeast by last October’s big storm

Aug. 2, 2013
  HURRICANE Sandy was a beast. It wasn’t just the second-costliest hurricane in United States history behind Hurricane Katrina, with damage of $68 billion. It was the largest Atlantic hurricane on record, as measured by diameter, with winds spanning 1,100 miles.

HURRICANE Sandy was a beast.

It wasn’t just the second-costliest hurricane in United States history behind Hurricane Katrina, with damage of $68 billion. It was the largest Atlantic hurricane on record, as measured by diameter, with winds spanning 1,100 miles.

To analyze the effects of the storm that rocked 24 states on October 29, 2012, three speakers participated a roundtable discussion during the International Liquid Terminals Association’s 2013 International Operating Conference held June 3 and 4 in Houston, Texas.

Jack McCrossin

Manager of NRO safety, health, environmental, and security

Citgo Petroleum Corp

McCrossin described the preparations at the Linden Terminal in New Jersey, the most northerly point on the two Colonial Pipeline runs from Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, and is the endpoint for billions of barrels a year of refined oil products from the southern refineries. A vast amount of product originates in Houston.

October 23: “It came on our radar. We had a private web service message about a tropical storm.”

October 24: “It was forecast to be a hurricane threatening Jamaica and Cuba; and the East Coast was threatened. We took the existing hurricane manual and made sure we reviewed every element. We cleaned out separators and drains to make sure valves worked properly. We talked about coordination with local and state authorities.”

October 25: “Landfall was forecast between Maryland and Massachusetts.”

October 27: “We heard predictions of four to eight inches of rain, with a 10-foot storm surge and tides as high as 12 feet. We started to pull certain pumps and meters.”

October 28: “We disconnected utility power and closed the terminal for business. The fuel situation already was very tight in the area. We had to strike a balance between closing the facility safely and evacuating our people while still meeting the demands of the market.”

On October 29, the rainfall was minimal—less than one inch—but there was a 13-foot storm surge in New York Harbor, which was almost seven feet higher than they had seen previously.

Buildings lost

Linden Terminal lost all three office buildings, including the dock’s main office.

“Every pump and motor was wet,” he said. “No power. No spills—we were lucky there. No fires or injuries. But (the bordering) New Jersey Turnpike was under four to five feet of water. The roadway to the office was blocked by a flotilla of trailers and storage units that were pushed by the storm surge and deposited on the roadway. There was zero access to the peninsula.

“This is not anything you ever want to see in your facility. Water in the main switch gear became one of our largest challenges. The warehouse is in a location in which we presumptively stored all of the pumps and motors we took out in locations we knew were typically flooded. We had put them into a ‘safe location’, but the height of storm rendered that warehouse not as safe as we liked, so all of those pumps and motors were flooded.”

A 12’x12’ woodshed at the facility across the Turnpike became the command center.

“We initiated our Incident Command System,” he said. “We started to pump water. We couldn’t assess damage until the water was gone. New Jersey has a very robust Office of Homeland Security & Preparedness. The regional operations intelligence center is NASA-like, with a multi-screen wall. A private sector desk was established that became the lifeline for everyone in our industry to funnel information to and from. It’s staffed with an advisor from Homeland Security. That was extremely helpful—one of the most helpful aspects of the entire response. In addition, every morning there was a conference call with the director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security & Preparedness.

“We were inundated with fuel requests from state and federal agencies. We had them from the New Jersey State Police, Homeland Security, the Coast Guard, county and state agencies, EPA, DOT, DOE, and a White House liaison. Fuel was in short supply in the entire north Jersey and New York area. The focus was on getting the loading racks open and back to supplying to the marketplace. A number of people in high positions in government didn’t realize gasoline is a unique commodity. They thought gas was gas. People didn’t realize gasoline was not available in tanks. They didn’t realize that gasoline was sub-octane and needed to be blended. Those aspects of our industry need to be communicated to people within positions of local and state governments.

“We secured a number of waivers or agreements not to enforce from federal and state agencies. We formulated fuel taxes, import/export licenses, DOT waivers for hours of operation for truck drivers, and regulations waivers from the Coast Guard on operating without security. Those things can be identified ahead of time. Drill and exercise with local communities and your state and you will identify the types of waivers and permit waivers and avoidance of enforcement actions from certain rules. You can prepare ahead of time, and whenever that happens—a hurricane, tornado, blizzard—you will be able to pick and choose what waivers you already talked about and make that process run more smoothly.”

He said the loading rack was back by mid-November after three weeks offline. The dock was back in service by mid-December.

“We designed and installed it with elevations to get it off the ground, with the idea that a storm surge of this type would not affect it again,” he said. “We were on generator power until mid-March.

“We learned a lot. Surge data needs more focus. Understand what storm surge means for your facility. Know what the elevations are that could cripple components at your plants. Engage your local department of Homeland Security. Know where to take your motors for repair. Everybody’s competing for the same resources on Day Two, so have the equipment service folks lined up early. And use a buddy system. Folks were out checking grounds. They were walking alone through the damage, and we learned quickly by recommendation that was not a smart move. Always do the facility assessment with two-person teams. And know that salt water does weird things to electrical components. We had things that checked out well early, but after a few months, the circuits were fried.”

Alice Lippert

Senior technical advisor

US Department of Energy

Lippert compared the characteristics of hurricanes, saying that Sandy and Katrina featured high storm surge while Irene and Rita featured high winds.

“When people understand that, it enables them to better respond,” she said. “When you look at data, Sandy was a Category One hurricane but ended up as a post-tropical cyclone. I never heard of that. I know we get cyclones. But for something to land as ‘post-tropical cyclone’ was unique.”

She said the storm surge in New York City was 14.1 feet. Sandy extended 500 miles from the center and brought blizzard conditions to some parts of the country, while Hurricane Irene (August 2011) was 300 miles from the center and did not have the same kind of impact. Both were Northeast storms with a nor’easter that followed.

In terms of electricity outages, New Jersey had 2.6 million customers without power, and it took two weeks to restore power, compared with just a week after Irene.

“There was not as much impact on the natural gas side as petroleum,” she said. “We counted 57 terminals shut down. That’s a big part of the infrastructure in the New York Harbor area. There were about half as many during Irene.”

Other impacts:

•  Refineries.“They didn’t start to recover from Sandy until a month later.”

•  Gasoline stocks.“There were major shortages of gasoline. With Irene, six days after the storm there was a two-million barrel drop, similar to Sandy, but there was quicker recovery during Irene.”

•  Petroleum.“Crude imports dropped 23% following Irene, and with Sandy, we saw a 62% drop.”

She said DOE is the sector-specific agency for emergency response and gets a directive under the national response framework and from the presidential policy director.

“During an event, DOE is the major focal point for all issues with respect to energy response policy,” she said. “We facilitate energy restoration and deploy people into the field. We had 35 responders working on Sandy. DOE works closely with agencies that issue waivers. We do a lot of due diligence for them.

“DOE issues situation reports twice a day, particularly during a major event. It includes all impacts to the energy infrastructure: It could be offshore oil and gas production and anything about refineries, pipelines, and terminals. This information is very useful to the public.

“On the electricity side, DOE worked very closely with the electricity sector. Every administration works closely with the sector, but this time there were daily calls to CEOs of major utilities that had severe damage. What were their needs?

“We also had an inter-agency task force set up at FEMA, with the job of coordinating all information and equipment that was needed. There were almost 70,000 utility workers from all over the United States, Canada, and Mexico, who helped with the recovery effort.”

She said that in the wake of long lines and shortages at gas stations, DOE worked closely with Homeland Security and EPA to assist on waivers.

“The Jones Act was waived to allow foreign vessels to bring product on intercoastal waterways, so 2.7 million barrels of fuel were brought from the Gulf Coast into New York Harbor,” she said. “That was unprecedented.

“The East Coast uses reformulated gasoline, but the requirement was waived to allow any kind of gasoline to be used. Ultra-low-sulfur diesel requirements were waived. We also released the strategic reserve that had been sitting at terminals across the Northeast since 2000. We worked closely with the Coast Guard and DOT to try to assess the status of ports. NY Harbor is a major hub. If you don’t have the Harbor open, you’re limited in your ability to bring in fuel. Getting the Harbor back up and running was critical.”

Ralph LaRossa

COO and president

New Jersey Public Service Electric and Gas Co

He said that after Sandy, they focused on the Electric System Operating Center, which he said is the “neurocenter for all transmissions systems.”

“We did everything we could to make that system whole again,” he said. “Just like in your industry where there is plant maintenance, in the electric industry at this time of year, there are many planned activities where we take the system down in certain areas and do maintenance. As a result of that, the system may not be whole during hurricane season in the Northeast.”

He said that after Sandy, it was a huge challenge in some areas to get construction materials shipped in.

“What we learned more than anything else is to have as many people available to do as many tasks as possible,” he said. “What happened is that our (natural) gas folks who normally help the electric folks out, were working on their own problems and had to bring in our meter readers to do the work that is performed traditionally by gas folks.”

He said that of the customer base of 2.8 million, about two million were without power.

“We lost 90% of our system,” he said. “There was a tremendous storm surge in the north bay area and we had high winds. Transmission lines feed our switching stations, and each of the switching stations had 100,000 customers associated with it. And each one of the substations fed from those stations had 10,000 customers. So for every one of the switching stations that went out of service, we lost 100,000 customers. Before we could tell what was going on in the distribution station, we had to restore power at the switching-station level and substation level.”

He said the plan is to spend $3.9 billion to bring the system and standards up to a “sensible level.”

“As a regulated company, we need support from industries such as yours to tell regulators that this makes sense,” he said. “It may raise our bill, but at the end of the day, we need to make those investments. For infrastructure investments, whether in the refinery, roadway, or electric system, this is the right time, because consumers are seeing lower commodity prices.”    ♦

About the Author

Rick Weber | Associate Editor

Rick Weber has been an associate editor for Trailer/Body Builders since February 2000. A national award-winning sportswriter, he covered the Miami Dolphins for the Fort Myers News-Press following service with publications in California and Australia. He is a graduate of Penn State University.