A hurricane hasn’t made landfall in Texas in nine years, but that could change this weekend.
Early Thursday, tropical storm Harvey was churning 370 miles off the coast of Port Mansfield, Texas, with winds near 45 mph. Forecasters now predict that Harvey’s winds are going to increase dramatically as it barrels down on Texas, possibly becoming Category 2 hurricane. According to one Bespoke Weather Service analyst, 12 to 24 inches of rain is “not out of the question.”
CNBC reports that many in the energy industry are watching nervously and preparing for the possibility of extreme winds and a storm surge.
Several companies in the region, including Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and ExxonMobil, have already begun evacuating workers from offshore platforms and cutting production.
One of the other concerns is the impact of flooding on refining facilities.
The Gulf Coast in Texas is home to about half of the country’s refining capacity. One analyst says that the rule of thumb is that if the storm is a Category 1, it will take about a week to restore refining operations. A Category 2 hurricane could knock out the facilities for up to two weeks.
Harvey is expected to make landfall late Friday and it is still unclear which part of the Texan coast is going to be the hardest hit by the storm. Right now, it looks like Houston could bear the brunt of the rain.
This situation could also be dangerous for chemical facilities in the area.
Building a barrier to protect the region’s network of chemical plants has been a hot-button issue for years.
In 2016, a committee was formed to come up with a solution to protect the Houston Ship Channel’s chemical plants and oil refineries, but progress was stymied by competing views about what kind of barrier would work best.
Earlier this year, ramped up efforts to get something done by asking President Trump for $15 billion in federal funds to build a barrier to protect Houston from a storm surge.
The Texas General Land Office Commissioner called the region "crucial to national security" because it houses over half of the country’s jet fuel and is the No. 1 energy supplier for the U.S. military.
A coastal barrier system would also protect the 6 million people who live and work in the region.
Worries about the next “big one” have increased since Hurricane Ike in 2008, which hammered the Texan coast, killed 74 people and caused $29.5 billion in damages.
Now, the series of seawalls and floodgates Texan lawmakers hope to build is commonly referred to as an “Ike Dike” and would be similar to the Dutch Delta Works — often considered one of the “seven wonders of the modern world.” The floodgates many engineers envision for Houston would be 800 feet wide, compared to the 1,183 feet-wide-gates that protect the Netherlands.
For now, though, the people and facilities along the coast are still vulnerable to whatever conditions Harvey brings.