Midwest Flooding Disrupts Everything From Oil to Wheat

Missouri Confronts Major Flooding in 16 Counties as Rivers Crest

A submerged gas station on Route 141 in Fenton, Missouri, on Dec. 30, 2015.

Photographer: Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images
  • Pipeline, terminals near St. Louis closed before flooding
  • At least 30 people dead after river levels surge to record

Deadly flooding across the U.S. Midwest is disrupting everything from oil to agriculture, forcing pipelines, terminals and grain elevators to close.

The floods have killed at least 30 people and shut hundreds of roads across Missouri and Illinois, according to state emergency officials in Missouri, Illinois and Oklahoma. Rain-swollen rivers will set records in the Mississippi River basin through much of January. Fifty miles (80 kilometers) of the Illinois River remain closed, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as five miles of the Mississippi River.

While water levels have started to recede in some areas, closures and restrictions remain in place for safety reasons, said Jonathan Lally, a spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard.

“The high water is kind of moving in a big glob and it’s on its way down,” he said Friday in a telephone interview from New Orleans.

Significant Flooding

Water levels are receding in the St. Louis area, while crests are still expected in the coming days in southern Missouri, southern Illinois, Arkansas, Tennessee and other southern states, the Associated Press reported Friday. Floodwaters will move downstream over the next couple of weeks with significant flooding expected for the lower Mississippi into mid-January, according to the National Weather Service.

Rising water has topped nine levees in the St. Louis district area, Rene Poche, spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Saturday in an e-mail. The threat of levees flooding is the most pressing concern in southern parts of Illinois, said Patti Thompson, spokeswoman for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.

“We’re still in an active flood fight,” Thompson said by telephone Saturday.

The flooding is the worst since May 2011, when rising water on the Mississippi and its tributaries deluged cities, slowed barge traffic and threatened refinery and chemical operations. The current situation has increased stockpiles of crude oil and may extend this past year’s price slide.

Hog producers in southern Illinois are calling other farmers, hoping to find extra barn space to relocate pigs, said Jennifer Tirey, executive director of the Illinois Pork Producers Association. Processors are sending additional trucks to retrieve market-ready pigs, she said. In one case, an overflowing creek took out electricity and made roads impassable, causing 2,000 pigs to drown.

‘So Much Rain’

“There was no way to get the pigs out,” Tirey said. “Honestly, it was just an act of God. That creek had so much rain.”

Flooding on the middle portion of the Mississippi River and some of its tributaries has reached levels “not seen during the winter months since records began during the middle 1800s,” according to AccuWeather. Water levels are rivaling the marks set during the summer of 1993 and spring of 1995 and 2011, the weather service said Friday on its website.

So far, the biggest oil shutdown involves Enbridge Inc.’s Ozark pipeline, which was booked to carry about 200,000 barrels a day this month to Wood River, Illinois, from Cushing, Oklahoma. The outage of the section under the Mississippi River may further add to stockpiles at Cushing that reached a record high last week.

The company couldn’t be reached for comment.

“The closure of the Ozark pipeline will just add to the stocks at Cushing,” said Amrita Sen, chief oil economist at Energy Aspects Ltd. in London.

Spectra Energy Corp.’s 145,000 barrel-a-day Platte oil pipeline between Guernsey, Wyoming, and Wood River was closed as a precaution because of the river’s condition, spokesman Devin Hotzel said Friday.

St. Louis received 5.91 inches of rain (15 centimeters) from Dec. 26 to Dec. 28, according to AccuWeather data. By Wednesday, Ameren Missouri was ferrying employees to and from its Sioux Energy Center north of St. Louis. The coal-fired power plant is still operational and workers will continue to travel by boat until the floodwaters recede, the company said in a statement.

Closed Terminals

Kinder Morgan Inc. shut its Cahokia terminal in Sauget, Illinois, and its Cora terminal in Rockwood, Illinois, company spokesman Richard Wheatley said by e-mail. Cahokia handles chemicals, coal, cement and metals while Cora handles coal and petcoke, according to the company’s website. Kinder Morgan declared a force majeure, which protects it from liability for contracts that go unfulfilled for reasons beyond its control.

“We plan to return to service as soon as possible after the water recedes,” Wheatley said Friday in an e-mailed statement.

Exxon Mobil Corp. shut its fuel terminal on the Mississippi at Memphis and is taking precautions to secure the facility, spokesman Todd Spitler said Friday in an e-mail. Impacts to customers “will be minimized as alternative supply will be provided,” he said.

Barge operators shipping grain took advantage of early forecasts for the heavy rain and flooding to transport loads before Christmas to ports in New Orleans, where there’s “adequate inventory,” said Wes Traina, logistics manager for Zen-Noh Grain Corp. in Convent, Louisiana. Still, high water may continue to slow shipping and loading throughout January, he added.

Shipments Delayed

“The biggest concern from the high waters and fast currents will be from barges hitting a bridge and breaking apart,” Traina said by phone. “It’s inevitable that accidents will occur.”

The southern Illinois co-op Gateway FS Inc. has closed three of its grain elevators. Employees are working extended hours to accommodate the large number of farmers hauling in grain from on-farm bins that could be compromised by flooding, said general manager Carl Tebbe.

“We’re just hopeful the water doesn’t quite get as high as what they’re saying,” Tebbe said. “Everyone has done a lot of work.”

The Coast Guard issued a high-water safety advisory for 566 miles of Mississippi River between Caruthersville, Missouri, and Natchez, Mississippi. It also instituted high-water towing limitations near Morgan City, Louisiana, for vessels heading south that are 600 feet or shorter, it said in a statement.

Safety Advisory

Delek U.S. Holdings Inc., which has a products terminal in Memphis, declined to comment, according to spokesman Matt Barkett.

Steve Lee, a spokesman for Valero Energy Corp., which has a 180,000 barrel-a-day refinery in Memphis that reduced operations during the 2011 floods, said Friday he has no update on the company’s plans to deal with the current flooding threat.

The floodwaters may eventually reach Louisiana, which has 10 refineries in the Baton Rouge-New Orleans area with a combined capacity of about 2.5 million barrels, or 13 percent of the nation’s capacity, said Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates in Houston.

Refineries including Exxon’s facility in Baton Rouge and Marathon Petroleum Corp.’s in Garyville, Louisiana, will probably try to get their crude and ship out their products if they can before the river levels rise, Lipow said.

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