Houston-Area Terminals Taking Actions to Keep Products Flowing During Big Freeze
Two major winter storm systems brought a mix of ice, sleet and freezing rain to Houston and weather forecasters are calling it the region's worst in decades. Late last week, Houstonians rushed to prepare their cars, homes, and gardens for the storm but, despite these preparations, many in the Houston area are now struggling without heat or power. Our best wishes go out to all those residents in Houston – and the rest of Texas – as power companies, state and local authorities work to restore those essential services.
Terminal operators have also been hard at work to ensure safe, continuous operations throughout and following the Big Freeze. Just like preparing for a hurricane, the Big Freeze required quick action to prepare the many terminal facilities across the Houston region. Terminal operators know that keeping their facilities up and running is critical to avoiding supply disruptions of fuels and other products. To ensure continuity of operations, terminal operators had to prepare on several fronts.
Some liquid products stored at terminals – including some components of gasoline mixtures – freeze when temperatures drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. A notable example is benzene, which freezes when thermometers read just 46 degrees. Benzene is widely used in the United States, ranking in the top 20 chemicals for production volume. It is a component of plastics, resin, and nylon and synthetic fibers, as well as some types of lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents, drugs and pesticides. Terminal operators must take steps to protect benzene and similar products.
Terminal operators also must ensure that water systems remain unfrozen. Just like a homeowner takes steps to protect pipes, terminal operators continuously cycle water systems during a low-temperature event to avoid equipment damage. Maintaining water systems on site is also critical for fire protection, since these systems power the deployment of firefighting foams used in case of emergencies.
Other safety steps facility operators take also will be familiar to homeowners. They include winterizing vehicles and laying down sand and salt to avoid slippery surfaces and to keep workers safe. The difference is that given the size of a typical terminal footprint, this job can be the equivalent of treating 1,300 driveways at a single terminal facility.
During extreme weather events like the current Big Freeze, terminal companies are also focused on the safety of their workforce. Terminal operators maintain cots, washing machines, and other simple amenities on-site for workers who are not able to return home safely during a major weather event.
Again, ILTA hopes all affected by the current extreme weather are safe during these trying times. Bulk liquid storage facilities continue to work for their clients and communities so that, when this period of freezing temperatures passes, all will have critical access to the energy, chemicals and other liquid problems they need to return to normal.