September 19, 2008

Millions Still Without Power

HOUSTON - Nearly 4 million customers were without power and the electricity supply to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico was still limited Tuesday days after Hurricane Ike struck.

With crucial refineries and pipelines shut down in Texas and Louisiana, retail gas prices rose again in the first extended increase since oil began its historic rise over the summer.

Power outages afflicting broad areas of the nation were among the nation's largest ever.

About 2.2 million customers were without power in Texas, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. There were about a million outages in Ohio, where remnants of Ike packed winds reaching 78 mph Sunday.

Thousands of utility workers traveled south to provide emergency assistance to states that took the full brunt of Ike, then turned around as the storm passed over them and wreaked havoc in their home states.

Between Texas and Louisiana, 12 refineries remain shut down and two are in the process of restarting, said Bill Bryan, the deputy assistant secretary for energy restoration at the Department of Energy.

Damage to offshore facilities was less than initially feared on the storm's approach.

The U.S. Minerals Management Service said Tuesday that Ike destroyed at least 28 offshore oil and natural gas production platforms in the gulf. Those platforms accounted for about 11,000 barrels of oil and 82 million cubic feet of natural gas a day - a fraction of the region's daily production, the agency said.

Daily production estimates for the gulf are roughly 1.3 million barrels of oil and 7 billion cubic feet of natural gas. That represents 25 percent of domestic oil production and 15 percent of natural gas output.

"To date, most of the destroyed platforms include older facilities with small levels of production," said Lars Herbst, the Minerals Management Service's regional director for the Gulf of Mexico. "We expect additional reports of damage."

Early reports indicate some pipeline damage, though the full extent won't be available until operators are able to test systems, the agency said.

To date, the damage has been far less than three years ago, when hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the gulf's energy infrastructure. Katrina destroyed 44 platforms in 2005, and soon after Rita destroyed 64.

Originally published by Associated Press.

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