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Hurricane Earl - Where Is It Headed and What Does It Have to Do With Energy?

September 1, 2010 - 5:50pm

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Hurricane Earl has the East Coast of the United States in his sights. Earl is moving northward from the Bahamas, and is expected to skirt the U.S. Atlantic coast from Cape Hatteras to New England, before making landfall in Nova Scotia over the Labor Day weekend. But hurricane paths are uncertain, so we’ll have to wait and see where Earl actually ends up.

In any event, what does this have to do with energy? Hurricanes can disrupt energy supplies and markets. In addition to the potential for electricity outages, hurricanes can affect offshore oil and gas production, petroleum refineries and other energy infrastructure. They can also place a damper on fuel demand if they discourage people from driving—particularly on a normally busy holiday weekend. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the energy statistics and analysis arm of the Department of Energy, has just launched a web page with information about Hurricane Earl from an energy perspective. Included on the page is an interactive map showing the location of various types of energy infrastructure that could potentially be affected by the storm. The web page also features links to additional related information and will be updated as developments unfold.

The Hurricane Earl web page is part of a new energy disruptions section of the EIA website that includes links to information on past disruptions and a newly updated Gulf of Mexico Fact Sheet. The Gulf of Mexico area, both onshore and offshore, is one of the most important regions for energy resources and infrastructure and can be particularly vulnerable to the impacts of the hurricanes that frequent the Gulf’s waters. Gulf of Mexico offshore oil production accounts for 30% of total U.S. crude oil production, and offshore natural gas production in the Gulf accounts for 13% of total U.S. production. Over 40% of total U.S. petroleum refining capacity is located along the Gulf coast, as well as almost 30% of total U.S. natural gas processing plant capacity. The Gulf Coast region is also the starting point for major pipeline systems that move petroleum and natural gas to East Coast and Midwest markets.

EIA’s updated Gulf of Mexico Fact Sheet presents information on infrastructure throughout the Gulf coast region. An interactive map of the area allows the user to choose the types of facilities displayed. Data tables summarize Gulf Coast oil and gas offshore production, petroleum refining and natural gas processing. Relevant web links for EIA and other government sites are listed, including links specific to hurricanes and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

So where is Earl headed and what could he impact? Check EIA’s Hurricane Earl page to find out.

Dr. Richard Newell is the Administrator for the Energy Information Administration.

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