The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts a relatively mild hurricane season for the Atlantic Coast and Gulf of Mexico this year, with a “near-normal or below-normal” number of storms.
That will come as a relief to many as we head further into hurricane season, which began officially at the beginning of June and extends until the end of November. But it won’t cause those of us at ExxonMobil to do anything different.
For a company like ours – with thousands of employees living and working along the Gulf Coast, and with numerous offshore platforms, refineries, chemical plants, research centers, and offices – hurricane season isn’t a five-month stretch from June to November. It’s year-round.
The safety of our personnel, their families, and the communities where we operate is of paramount importance. Just one storm has the capacity to cause great damage and interrupt the supplies of fuel that make everyday life possible.
So we take steps throughout the year to ensure we are ready if and when bad weather hits, and to make sure we can bounce back as quickly as possible.
Hurricane preparedness is a team effort, incorporating all elements of the corporation. We have teams that monitor severe weather conditions throughout the year and teams that develop and practice emergency response strategies. I wrote two years ago about some of the steps we take to prepare for potential storms; they apply just as much today.
The Gulf of Mexico accounts for 40 percent of U.S. petroleum refining capacity and 30 percent of U.S. natural gas processing plant capacity. So a hurricane’s impact may not be confined just to the homes and businesses in the region. A major storm can affect pump prices and even the availability of gasoline and diesel around the country. The country learned that hard lesson after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita slammed into the Texas and Louisiana coasts less than a decade ago.
This fact sheet by the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association gives a flavor of overall industry efforts to prepare for severe weather.
In particular check out the description of how refineries prepare in advance of major storms. Storage tanks are filled, for instance, to ensure they don’t capsize in heavy winds. And the speed with which a refinery returns to normal operations – and can begin providing fuel to distribute to service stations – depends on any number of factors. Many of these are out of the hands of an individual refinery, such as whether electricity is available.
Like everyone else, we hope that the hurricane predictions and models prepared by NOAA’s experts are on the mark and that Mother Nature spares us, just like last year.
We’re hopeful, but we’re not going to count on it.