Hurricane Harvey raises questions about Gulf Coast concentration of energy infrastructure

Hurricane Harvey's impact on energy infrastructure, including the shut down of some refineries and pipelines, has prompted some to call for a wider infrastructure network to offset the effects of future storms.

Many refineries, platforms and pipelines were still running at much less than full capacity last week as energy companies moved to offset the effects of the hurricane.

The hurricane, which slammed the coasts of Texas and Louisiana, knocked out an estimated 4.2 million barrels per day of refining capacity, or 23 percent of the United States total, according to a report by Reuters.

The news agency further reported last week that, while some refineries and pipelines were operating, about 20 percent of refining capacity remained offline.

Hurricane Harvey could have been worse for energy refining and distribution, and would have been if it hit a decade ago, according to an activist with a veterans' group that lobbies for increased energy independence.

Retired U.S. Army Capt. James McCormick, program director of Vets4Energy, said fracking and shale energy has provided the U.S. with alternative sources, but more is needed to be done to beef up oil refining and pipeline infrastructure, he told American Security News.

A Wall Street Journal article said the U.S. has 141 operable oil refineries today, 79 fewer than three decades ago, and noted that many of the facilities are concentrated on the Gulf Coast.

One of the reasons for this concentration of refining capacity is because Texas and Louisiana are so welcoming to energy companies.

"A decade ago, such a storm would have taken a much larger toll on our country’s energy supply," McCormick said. "Hydraulic fracturing and shale energy have given us alternative choices as parts of Texas temporarily went offline."

He added, "All veterans know the importance of redundancy and backups in all vital systems including fuel supplies. And this hurricane has demonstrated our need for additional energy infrastructure."

He said pipelines should be like the internet, where there are "multiple pathways available to get that energy where it needs to go."

"Those additional pathways help ensure an uninterrupted supply of energy remains available and lessens the disruption in case such disaster comes again," McCormick said.

And he added, "Hurricane Harvey is tragic, with loss that will be felt forever. We’ve seen the worse of what a storm can deliver, and the best of American qualities from those who jump in to help their fellow Americans."

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