U.S. Energy secretary says Hurricane Laura damaged a Strategic Petroleum Reserve site; meets with Gov. Edwards

Published: Sep. 9, 2020 at 6:30 PM CDT
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Gov. John Bel Edwards and U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette held a virtual media briefing...
Gov. John Bel Edwards and U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette held a virtual media briefing after a roundtable with energy sector and utility company reps on Hurricane Laura damage.(Source: WVUE)

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - The nation’s Energy chief, Dan Brouillette, visited Louisiana on Wednesday to see the damage caused to the energy sector by Hurricane Laura and said the storm caused significant damage to a site holding about 30-percent of the nation’s emergency crude oil.

Still, Brouillette said he joins Governor John Bel Edwards in focusing on getting electricity restored to all of southwest Louisiana.

“Nothing can replace a face-to-face conversation and laying eyeballs on the work that needs to be done,” said Brouillette. “The recovery depends upon the restoration of electricity and other forms of energy.”

Brouillette, who serves as U.S. Energy Secretary in the Trump administration, joined Edwards at a virtual news conference after a roundtable discussion with industry leaders including representatives of utility companies that provide electricity.

Edwards said no one should under-estimate the pain Laura inflicted on the southwestern part of the state.

“Just catastrophic damage to people’s homes, businesses, and infrastructure and as you know to the electric grid as well,” said Edwards.

Brouillette agreed.

“What we learned and what we have seen first-hand is that the destruction to the transmission grid, in particular, is devastating,” said Brouillette.

Brouillette is a Louisiana native who is heading up a big federal agency for the Trump administration. During the media briefing, he said one site of the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve was heavily damaged by the powerful hurricane. He planned to visit the facility following the question-and-answer session with reporters.

“It’s comprised of four sites, two in Texas, two in Louisiana, three of them are fine, the damage is minimal, one of them obviously, West Hackberry took a direct hit by the hurricane, damage there I’m told is significant, I will see it later today. We will be able to repair that,” said Brouillette.

There was already plenty of oil on the market before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S., so supply is not an issue.

“It’s a bit of a mixed blessing here in a sense that we have a COVID pandemic which has depressed demand for refined products like gasoline, diesel and, jet fuel,” said Brouillette.

Louisiana’s energy sector was already suffering before the hurricane and now some facilities are dealing with the aftermath of Laura.

"I’ve talked to many of the companies who operate the refineries in the area, happy to report that the damage while significant is not going to permanently damage operations there, and we would expect to see many of them coming

online as soon as we can restore power to the area," said Brouillette.

Edwards said the nation benefits from Louisiana’s oil and gas industry.

“This is critically important for us because energy drives Louisiana’s economy and Louisiana energy drives the country,” Edwards said. “Just over half of the total U.S. refining capacity is located along the Gulf Coast and the COVID-19 situation makes all this much more difficult, the volatility recently of the oil and gas markets; Hurricane Laura, all of this has converged to create a very challenging situation.”

Though progress has been made in restoring power to parts of southwest Louisiana more work must be done.

“You’re going to see more lights on, you’re going to see more retail come online but it’s going to be a relatively modest step and so we don’t want to overstate it. Calcasieu Parish right now is right around 90 percent out still and so only 10 percent with power,” Edwards said.

The governor says he will enlist Brouillette’s help on Capitol Hill as Louisiana requests more assistance.

“In Congress, the reimbursement of damages and so forth, trying to protect the ratepayers as best we can,” Edwards stated.

Brouillette said he will also work to make infrastructure in the industry more resilient.

“The next step in this process apart from the direct recovery of the hooking up lines is going to be to see how we might assist in helping harden some of this infrastructure,” said Brouillette.

Brouillette recently took steps to let Louisiana get electrical power from a neighboring state.

“I recently signed an emergency order that allows power to be brought in from Texas,” he said.

Edwards welcomed the move.

“He’s allowed us to take advantage of some power-generation in Texas to get more or less, I like to call it, an extension cord into Louisiana to help power up some communities,” said Edwards.

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