Port Fourchon, refineries out for weeks, raising short- and long-term questions

An aerial view of Port Fourchon in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida. (Courtesy U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy)

When Hurricane Ida blasted ashore, its 150 mile per hour winds not only laid waste to southeast Louisiana but to the nation’s fossil fuel infrastructure.

Only this morning is major debris finally being cleared from Louisiana Highway 1 so crews can begin assessing the damage to Port Fourchon, which was where the Category 4 hurricane made landfall Sunday.

There are more questions than answers at this point, but one thing is certain:

“It will create instability in the price of oil and increases in the cost of gasoline at the pump,” says David Dismukes, executive director of the LSU Center for Energy Studies. “The Gulf of Mexico is a significant crude oil production basin and Port Fourchon is a very significant port.”

How significant?

Some 90% of the Gulf of Mexico’s deep water oil and gas passes through Port Fourchon. That represents somewhere between 16-20% of the nation’s entire fuel supply.

Not only was Port Fourchon badly damaged, but refineries throughout the area were crippled, according to The New York Times. 

• Floodwaters spilled over a temporary levee erected near a Phillips 66 refinery in Plaquemines Parish

• Almost two dozen barges unmoored by the hurricane’s winds damaged the dock at the giant Valero refinery in St. Bernard Parish.

• Shell’s refining and chemical complex in Norco appeared to have suffered extensive flooding.

The ripple effects are already being felt in energy markets. Crude oil prices closed slightly higher Monday at $69 per barrel, though experts don’t expect long or sustained price hikes in oil because production from deep water platforms does not appear to have been hampered.

Refining capacity, on the other hand, will be impacted because of damage to the refineries and the port, which will translate into higher prices at the pump.

Port Fourchon Executive Director Chett Chiasson told NPR this morning that it will be weeks before the port is back up and running but there’s no way to know yet how many weeks that might be.

While the short term effects are worrisome, experts are concerned longterm about the vulnerabilities of the nation’s aging fossil fuel infrastructure.

“We’ve seen the premature retirement of some of our fossil fuel infrastructure of late,” Dismukes says. “I hope this storm doesn’t result in the retirement of still more infrastructure. I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but it’s something to think about.”