Ike, Gustav Leave Mark on the Gulf

By | October 14, 2008
In the 60s, Ike and Tina Turner tore up the R&B charts with hit songs such as "Land of 1,000 Dances" and "Proud Mary."

In September, Hurricanes Ike and Gustav formed a volatile duo and tore up the Texas coastline with devastating force. With two major hurricanes leaving their mark on the Gulf Coast this summer, the area faces serious challenges in rebuilding.

The majority of the plants are concentrated in the greater Houston area. When Hurricanes Ike and Gustav struck, I asked National Biodiesel Board staff to contact our members in the area to offer support and see how they fared.

Luckily, the majority of the plants in the area reported that they sustained only minor damage in the storms and are up and running again. In fact, Renewable Energy Group held the grand opening for its Houston-area facility just days before Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, but fortunately they fared very well. REG reports that it enacted its hurricane preparedness plan, and the plant itself sustained very little physical damage. Biodiesel production was able to begin again just a couple of days later.

Other plants sustained more damage and faced some disruption. The Houston ship channel was inaccessible for a time, making full operation impossible for some biodiesel businesses. Huish Detergents reported no damage to its plant, but it did have trouble getting trucks in and out. Others told us that even though they were on the ship channel, they were built high enough so as not to sustain any damage.

Some producers, such as Agribiofuels, said the problem was not with any damage, but more with the hurricanes having a negative impact on the market. "Hurricanes Gustav and Ike got people to lay off on buying product," said Edward Gaiennie of Agribiofuels. "They are focusing on new priorities like cleanup and may also not be operating their businesses
fully again, lessening the need for fuel."

Some plant representatives said that they were able to come to the aid of others and provide biodiesel when diesel was harder to come by in the weeks following the hurricane.
A few days after Ike, I was in Texas to attend the Biodiesel Coalition of Texas' Texas Biofuels Conference & Expo. I had hoped to travel from Austin to Houston to personally check in with some of our members there. But I scrubbed plans to go to Houston after deciding that my visit during the cleanup process might be more of a nuisance than a help.
We also tried to stay in touch with our Texas members through our friends at BCOT, including Mike Nasi and Jess Hewitt. BCOT Chairman Jess Hewitt, president of Gulf Hydrocarbon, also serves as NBB's marketing committee chairman.

"As we can tell from the summer of 2008, hurricanes will be part and parcel of life on the Gulf in Texas," Hewitt said. "We're proud to be a part of the NBB family and we're proud that BCOT members have responded so well in the face of adversity."

I was glad to see Jenny Ligums-Leonard of Galveston-based BioSelect in Austin at the BCOT conference. She reported that while they were still recovering from flood damage and power outages, the physical damage to the plant could have been much worse.

Texas' Gulf biodiesel operations are significant, making up the majority of biodiesel capacity in the state. Not only does Texas have the largest biodiesel production capacity, but its Gulf operations address various biodiesel markets. Texas is an important focus of the NBB's state regulatory program, which is why we work very closely with BCOT on the very active government affairs efforts in the state. In response to Gov. Rick Perry's request immediately after the hurricanes hit, U.S. EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson temporarily waived TxLED requirements, which provided some regulatory relief to aid in getting fuel into and out of damaged areas.

To those companies we have not heard from, we extend our regards for the best. If you faced any damage, we hope you'll be up and running again soon. We admire that overall the biodiesel industry in Texas continues to stand strong despite a forceful natural disaster, proving its fortitude. It mirrors how the biodiesel industry continues to persevere in the
face of wave upon wave of economic, political and technical challenges over the past year.

It is that fortitude, the kind shown repeatedly by our friends in Texas, which helps us continue to weather the storms.

Joe Jobe
Chief Executive Officer
National Biodiesel Board
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