Record-Low Temperatures Impede Marine Operations in Houston

galveston ferry
Icy ferry landing at Galveston, February 15 (Texas DOT)

Published Feb 16, 2021 8:40 PM by The Maritime Executive

The winter storm system sweeping across the United State has hit oil production and refining capacity in Texas, forcing refinery shutdowns and impeding marine terminal operations along the Houston Ship Channel. 

A record-low temperature of 15 degrees Fahrenheit was registered at Houston's Hobby Airport on Tuesday morning. The deep freeze is unusual for coastal Texas, and many pipeline operators and refiners have not designed their infrastructure to cope with such a historic cold snap. In total, about four million bpd worth of refining capacity has gone offline along the Gulf Coast due to the storm, according to Wood Mac. In addition to the cold, the electrical utility Entergy has reportedly asked some refiners to curtail operations in order to conserve power at a period of extremely high demand. 

Contrary to mainstream media reports, the Houston Ship Channel itself is not closed by administrative order. The Captain of the Port has posted no navigation restrictions. However, with roads iced up and power outages spreading across the region, moving personnel and conducting routine operations has become difficult on shore, prompting a pullback on vessel movements. A spokesperson for the Houston Pilots told Reuters that about five vessels would move on the channel on Tuesday, a low number for one of America's busiest ports. 

Freezing temperatures and more ice accumulation are forecast for Houston and points inland on Tuesday night. Even when power and road access are fully restored, energy industry analysts expect that it may be a matter of weeks before the Gulf Coast's refining industry gets back into full swing again.

In the meantime, expectations of supply restrictions have prompted traders to bid up petroleum product prices; the same phenomenon is occurring for natural gas, as heating and power generation demand has soared across the United States.