Industry assesses Ida impact on chemical production (PM update)

August 30, 2021

Hurricane Ida, which struck southeastern Louisiana at noon Sunday, could have a significant impact on multiple petrochemical products, notably polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS), and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). After making landfall near New Orleans with winds up to 150 mph, Ida crept north-northeast across the state, its eye just east of the petrochemical corridor that tracks the Mississippi River. By 4 pm Central time Monday afternoon Ida had weakened to a tropical depression centered near Jackson, Mississippi and heading northeast. Regions further west such as Lake Charles, Louisiana, and Port Arthur, Texas, appear to have escaped any significant impact.

“Regions most affected by the storm included Baton Rouge, Plaquemine, Taft, New Orleans, and regions further east in Louisiana and north to Mississippi,” says Terry Glass, executive director/plastics with IHS Markit. “The full extent of the damage will not be known for several days but plant shutdowns will likely last for several weeks.”

Power outages are the primary concern to the plants as little can be done to determine operational damages until power is restored. Initial reports indicated catastrophic damage to the grid in many regions, including New Orleans. Initial reports indicated power outages throughout the eastern regions of Louisiana and extending as far north as Mississippi. Entergy reported Sunday night that all eight transmission lines that delivered power to New Orleans were out of service, and it will take days to determine the extent of damage to the power grid in metro New Orleans and far longer to restore electrical transmission to the region.

Cracker shutdowns

Chlorine, styrene, propylene, and urethane precursors were reportedly of greatest concern due to the outages as of Monday afternoon. Approximately 19% of the US ethylene capacity was located in the path of this hurricane including ExxonMobil at Baton Rouge, Shell at Norco, Dow at Plaquemine and Taft, Shintech in Plaquemine, and Nova Chemicals at Geismar). About 31% of US chlor-alkali capacity and 41% of US PVC capacity is located in the region directly impacted by Hurricane Ida. There are 18 polyethylene and three polypropylene plants in Louisiana that may have been impacted by the storm which represents 15.6% of US PE capacity and 11% of PP capacity.

Shell had shut down its steam crackers in Norco and Nova Chemicals had shut down its ExxonMobil on Sunday reported that its Baton Rouge facilities were “adjusting operations and shutting down some units and equipment.” Dow on Sunday said it had “safely shut down its manufacturing operations in Louisiana.” Sunday morning, BASF stated that its sites at Geismar, North Geismar, and Vidalia had “begun procedures to idle operations by noon on Sunday.” Southeastern Louisiana is also home to several massive olefin facilities. ExxonMobil produces ethylene, polymer-grade propylene (PGP), PE, and PP at Baton Rouge. Dow produces ethylene, PGP, and PE at its facilities in Hahnville and Plaquemine. Shell’s Norco facility has two large steam crackers producing both ethylene and PGP. Pinnacle Polymers produces PP in Garyville. Nova Chemicals has a large merchant ethylene plant in Geismar. Altogether, about 6.5 million metric tons/year (MMt/y) of ethylene capacity, or 16% of the US total, is in the region. The region is also home to 3.4 MMt/y of PE capacity (15% of the US total), 2.7 MMt/y of PGP capacity (13%), and 0.9 MMt/y of PP capacity (10%). Shell’s Norco facility represents about 8% of US ethylene glycol capacity.

Steam crackers shut down for the storm are likely to be offline for 2–4 weeks.

Chlor-alkali and vinyls impacted

The vinyls chain has a particularly heavy presence in the parts of Louisiana affected by Ida, with about 4.0 MMt/y of vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) capacity in the area, or 40% of the US total, and 3.7 MMt/y of PVC capacity, or 43% of the US total, according to IHS Markit. Formosa Plastics produces VCM and PVC at Baton Rouge; Shintech produces VCM and PVC at Plaquemine, and PVC at Addis; and Westlake Chemical produces PVC and VCM at both Geismar and Plaquemine. Upstream chlor-alkali production in the region represents about 32% of the US total.

The area’s styrene producers—Americas Styrenics at St. James and Cos-Mar at Carville—together have 2.2 MMt/y of capacity, or 44% of the US total. Total Petrochemicals’ 0.6 MMt/y of PS capacity at Carville represents 26% of US capacity.

About 2.8 MMt/y of methanol capacity, or 32% of the US total, is located in the region. Methanex has 2.2 MMt/y of capacity at Geismar, while Koch has about 0.6 MMt/y at St. James.

About 14% of US benzene capacity is in the region, with Dow producing at Plaquemine; ExxonMobil at Baton Rouge; PBF at Chalmette; and Phillips 66 at Belle Chasse.

More than 95% of the Gulf of Mexico’s oil production facilities have been shut down indicating the massive storm is having a significant impact on refineries, particularly in the New Orleans area including PBF, Phillips, Shell, Marathon and two Valero refineries. This accounts for about 1.7 million barrels per day of refinery capacity, representing 9% of the nation’s total.