Price of gas continues climb started by Ike

Ike Energy
Thousands of utility workers traveled south to provide emergency assistance to states that took the full brunt of Ike, then turned around as the storm passed over them and wreaked havoc in their homes states.Eric Gay / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Nearly 4 million customers were without power and the electricity supply to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico was still limited Tuesday in the wake of Hurricane Ike.

With crucial refineries and pipelines shut down in Texas and Louisiana, retail gas prices rose again in the first extended increase at the pump since oil began its historic rise over the summer.

Power outages afflicting broad areas of the nation were among the nation's largest ever.

About 2.2 million customers were without power in Texas, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. There were about a million outages in Ohio, where remnants of Ike packed winds of up to 78 mph Sunday.

Thousands of utility workers traveled south to provide emergency assistance to states that took the full brunt of Ike, then turned around as the storm passed over them and wreaked havoc in their homes states.

Between Texas and Louisiana, 12 refineries remain shut down and two in the process of restarting, said Bill Bryan, deputy assistant secretary for energy restoration at the Department of Energy. The storm destroyed at least a dozen production platforms and drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, and much of the production is still shut down in the critical region.

Gas prices nationally averaged $3.854 Tuesday, about a 20-cent increase since Friday, according to auto club AAA, the Oil Price Information Service and Wright Express. But gas prices have fluctuated widely throughout parts of the country as some stations, especially in the Southeast where prices topped $5, have had trouble getting fuel from Texas and Louisiana following Ike and Gustav.

It hasn't helped that some consumers have overreacted and continue to line up for gas even if they do not need it, said Geoff Sundstrom, AAA's fuel price analyst in Orlando, Fla.

"We're just going to have to be patient and wait for the system to restore itself," he said.

Damage to offshore facilities was less that initially feared on the storm's approach.

The U.S. Minerals Management Service said Tuesday that Ike destroyed at least 28 offshore oil and natural gas production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. Those platforms accounted for about 11,000 barrels of oil and 82 million cubic feet of natural gas a day — a fraction of the region's daily production, the MMS said.

Daily production estimates for the Gulf are roughly 1.3 million barrels of oil and 7 billion cubic feet of natural gas. That represents 25 percent of domestic oil production and 15 percent of natural gas output.

"To date, most of the destroyed platforms include older facilities with small levels of production," said Lars Herbst, MMS regional director for the Gulf of Mexico. "We expect additional reports of damage."

Early reports indicate some pipeline damage, though the full extent will not be available until operators are able to test systems, the MMS said.

To date, the damage has been far less than three years ago, when hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf's energy infrastructure. Katrina destroyed 44 platforms in 2005, and soon after Rita destroyed 64.

Prices are expected to fall away once the refineries are back running at full speed.

There were 39 major natural gas processing plants in the path of Ike with a total operating capacity of 17.6 billion cubic feet per day. Of those plants, 23 remain shut down, including plants hurt by Gustav.

The Independence Hub platform, located about 150 miles off Louisiana, reported gas flow of more than 700 million cubic feet Monday, an increase of 100 million cubic feet from Sunday. The platform is the largest producing platform and represents 12 percent of offshore Gulf of Mexico natural production. In July, production averaged more than 800 million cubic feet.