Hurricane Laura in Texas: Experts say disruption to oil and gas industry will depend on storm’s speed

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What you need to know:

  • Hurricane Laura is expected to make landfall near the Texas-Louisiana border as a Category 4 hurricane Thursday morning.
  • Due to the coronavirus, state officials are looking to house evacuees in hotels rather than crowded shelters.
  • Citing the hurricane, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick canceled his trip to watch President Donald Trump’s speech at the Republican National Convention.

Hurricane Laura intensifies and is close to becoming Category 5 hurricane

[8:27 p.m.] As Hurricane Laura barreled toward the Gulf Coast on Wednesday night, the National Hurricane Center reported that the storm’s maximum sustained winds had reached 150 mph — just 7 mph short of becoming a Category 5 hurricane. The storm is expected to bring “catastrophic” storm surge, winds and flash flooding.

“All preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion in the next few hours,” a 7 p.m. advisory from the center read.

The storm, currently a Category 4 hurricane, is expected to hit land just east of the Texas-Louisiana border by Thursday morning, according to the National Weather Service. Strong winds associated with the hurricane, though, are expected to make landfall Wednesday night. Storms classified as Category 5 have sustained winds that are 157 mph or higher.

While both Category 4 and 5 hurricanes can cause catastrophic damage to trees, houses and power lines, the stronger storms, according to the center, can destroy “a high percentage of framed homes … with total roof failure and wall collapse.”

Later Wednesday, the center said possible tornadoes could occur on the outer bands of the hurricane in parts of Southeastern Louisiana and Southwestern Mississippi. — Cassi Pollock

Experts say disruption to Texas oil and gas industry will depend on Laura’s speed

[6:06 p.m.] Even as Hurricane Laura barrels toward the state’s coastline after being upgraded to a Category 4 storm Wednesday afternoon, economists and regulatory experts say the effects on the state’s oil and gas industry will depend on how long Laura lingers over the Texas-Louisiana border.

“If it’s a fast mover like we’re kind of expecting, I don’t expect it to drop the torrential amounts of rain like we dropped in 2017, so that will certainly help and reduce the major flood risk,” said Timothy Snyder, the president of Matador Economics. “We still may have a flood risk and probably some wind damage, but we can sustain some of that. I do not believe, unless that storm gets right on the Gulf Coast and stops, that we’ll have a major event.”

David Blackmon, an energy consultant and associate editor for Shale Magazine based in Mansfield, didn’t downplay the seriousness of Hurricane Laura’s impact. But he said that in its aftermath, Texas shouldn’t experience fuel shortages or price spikes witnessed after Hurricane Harvey.

“After Harvey, we lost 25% of the refining capacity for a month. But every statement I have seen from the refiners indicates they expect to be back online by the weekend,” Blackmon said. “This storm is really serious, and everyone needs to get out of its way if they can. But as far as the oil and gas industry is concerned, the main thing is that as long as it gets out of that coastal area quickly as it’s predicted to do, the damage and other disruptions to the oil and gas supply chains should be pretty minimal.”

There could be a slight uptick in the price of fuel for a few days, but it will be less than what late-summer motorists have paid in the past. That’s because the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a drop in the demand for fuel.

“We’re about 35 to 40 cents a gallon lower than we were in February,” Blackmon said. “We saw gas go up by 30 to 40 cents a gallon [after Harvey].”

Ray Perryman, a state economist with the Waco-based Perryman Group, agreed that the energy industry is well prepared for natural disasters. But he said other industries could be hit hard.

“Hurricane Laura threatens about a third of U.S. refining capacity and a major portion of production of certain types of chemicals. Given that the pandemic has already suppressed profits in an industry where margins are fairly slim, it’s like adding insult to injury. These facilities are no stranger to hurricanes, however, and are well equipped to deal with the effects,” he said.

Perryman also warned of a sustained effect on trade to Texas through the Port of Houston. — Julián Aguilar

Houston mayor warns residents to be prepared if storm intensifies

[6:06 p.m.] Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner warned Wednesday evening that while Hurricane Laura’s path is projected to land east of the region, residents should still be “on their guard” and evacuate streets by 8 p.m.

“Tomorrow, people may say, ‘Mayor, this wasn’t bad at all and you made too much of a fuss,” Turner said at a news conference with other city officials. “Well let me tell you, these storms rapidly intensify, and you have to be ready.”

Hurricane Laura, which reached Category 4 status, is expected to hit land just east of the Texas-Louisiana border by Thursday morning, according to the National Weather Service. Houston, the state’s largest city and the fourth largest in the nation, is about 275 miles away from the border.

Turner said Wednesday that storms like Laura underscore the need for coastal barriers to protect the Gulf Coast. One proposal, the Houston Chronicle reported earlier this week, is still in its planning stages as it slowly winds its way through the federal approval process. “Hurricane Ike was an initial warning in 2008,” Turner said. “I don’t know how many more chances we’re going to have for the Houston area.” — Cassandra Pollock

Landfall expected Thursday morning near Texas-Louisiana border

[2:15 p.m.] Hurricane Laura has reached Category 4 status with maximum sustained winds of 140 mph, according to the National Weather Service. It’s the first major hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico since Hurricane Harvey brought widespread damage to Houston and other areas along the coast in 2017.

The NWS expects the storm to make landfall Thursday morning just east of the Texas-Louisiana border. According to an advisory, tropical storm force winds are expected to reach the coast of Southeast Texas on Wednesday evening. A hurricane warning is in effect from San Luis Pass to beyond the Louisiana border.

“The strongest winds and heaviest rains should occur overnight tonight into Thursday morning,” the NWS advisory said.

Multiple cities and counties across the Gulf Coast have ordered evacuations.

“Laura is a very dangerous storm for extreme southeastern Texas and southwest Louisiana,” the advisory said. “It will bring life-threatening storm surge from San Luis Pass, Texas to the Mouth of the Mississippi, widespread damaging winds to the Texas/Louisiana border area, and heavy rainfall around and east of the storm’s center. Actions to protect life and property should be rushed to completion [Wednesday] morning as conditions will rapidly deteriorate later today.” — Matthew Watkins

Texas using hotels to house evacuees 

[1:30 p.m.] With Hurricane Laura approaching the Southeast Texas coast during a pandemic, local and state officials are looking to house evacuees in government-paid hotel rooms instead of large, often clustered emergency shelters.

One of the state’s few shelters announced for evacuees in Austin filled up Wednesday morning and ran out of hotel vouchers for Galveston evacuees, city officials said. State emergency officials said they are working to ensure there is access to additional hotel rooms after the shelter at the city’s Circuit of the Americas racetrack filled up.

Early this morning, KVUE-TV reported that evacuees were turned away from the shelter, which had the capacity for about 3,000 evacuees. At 10 a.m., the city said the racetrack was opened back up as a rest area and waiting location while officials scrambled to find more housing options.

At a noon press conference with the governor Wednesday, the chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management said that the problem arose because the city believed it had rooms reserved, but they were taken by evacuees who went directly to hotels instead of first checking in with government officials at the racetrack. Officials are now juggling those who came to the city for vouchers and those who checked into hotels on their own.

“There are still plenty of hotel rooms available, it’s just trying to balance the load right now,” Nim Kidd said.

Gov. Greg Abbott still urged people who can safely evacuate to do so. He said more than 5,000 evacuees have already been sheltered throughout the state. Read the full story here.Jolie McCullough

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick will not attend Trump’s RNC speech

[1:50 p.m.] With Hurricane Laura heading for the Louisiana and Texas coasts, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced Wednesday that he will not be attending the Republican National Convention as planned.

“While I was deeply honored by the White House invitation to President Donald J. Trump’s acceptance speech tomorrow night, the safety of the people of Texas is always my first priority,” Patrick said.

Patrick encouraged Texans in the path of the storm to monitor it closely and follow evacuation orders as it is not a storm to “try to ride out.” — Kelsey Carolan

Correction: An earlier version of this story misnamed the Texas Division of Emergency Management.