News from Notch Consulting, Inc.

September 16, 2008

Open House at Columbian Hamilton

Filed under: Carbon Black — Notch @ 11:15 am

On Saturday, September 13, Columbian Chemicals held a public open house at its carbon black plant in Hamilton, Ontario, including a tour of the plant. The event was intended to familiarize community members with the plant’s daily operations, as well as its product, carbon black. The tour also highlighted recent steps taken to reduce potential air emissions. The plant held an open house last year for its 99 employees, but this was the first event at the plant that was open to the public. Here is a reporter’s story on the tour.

“It’s a way to reach out to the public who might be concerned about what’s going on behind that high fence and it might help them to understand what we do and how important we are,” [plant manager Brian] Young said.

September 15, 2008

Update on Ike

Filed under: Carbon Black, General — Notch @ 11:50 am

Quick update on the status of the carbon black plants affected by Hurricane Ike over the weekend.

Evonik Degussa at Aransas Pass, Texas: Plant was shut down on Friday (September 12) due to a precautionary shut down of natural gas. The plant is restarting today (September 15).

Evonik Degussa at Orange, Texas: Plant was shut down on Thursday (September 11) in preparation for the storm. Orange and the surrounding area was hit hard, and damage assessment at the plant is still underway. The company does not currently have an estimate of when it will return to operation. Electric power is out in the area.

Evonik Degussa’s Ivanhoe plant in New Iberia, Louisiana: This plant dodged a bullet as reports indicate that the storm surge from Ike nearly topped the levees before retreating. The plant experienced only minor flooding and is in good shape overall. Electric power is currently out but the plant is expected to restart on Wednesday (September 17).

Sid Richardson at Addis, Louisiana: Electric power was restored on Friday (September 12) and the plant came back up over the weekend.

At this point, Evonik Degussa does not expect these disruptions to affect its plans to close Aransas Pas by the end of 2008.
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Update: The two carbon black plants located in Franklin, Louisiana — operated by Cabot Corp. and Columbian Chemicals — shut down over the weekend as a precaution. Storm damage in the area was light and both plants are starting up today. There have been issues with staffing caused by employees not being available due to flooding in the area.

September 11, 2008

Update on Gustav/Ike

Filed under: Carbon Black, General — Notch @ 1:14 pm

With the exception of Sid Richardson’s Addis, LA plant, all of the carbon black plants shut down in the Gulf Coast due to Hurricane Gustav restarted earlier this week. This includes Cabot Franklin and Ville Platte, Columbian North Bend, and Evonik Degussa Ivanhoe.

Restoration of electric power to Sid’s Addis plant has taken longer than expected due to extensive damage to electrical lines in and around Baton Rouge. The plant is ready to go and just requires electric power to run the process air blowers. As of Thursday morning, the latest estimate from Entergy was that power would be restored on Friday, September 12. As previously reported here, Sid is shipping from the plant’s existing inventory and has been able to meet its contracts from its other two US plants.

As for Hurricane Ike, this storm is strengthening and is projected to make landfall near Houston/Galveston on early Saturday as a Category 3 storm or above. Evonik Degussa’s carbon black plant in Orange, Texas is in the storm’s expected path, so will shut down. Evonik’s plant in Aransas Pass, Texas (near Corpus Christi) is just south of the storm’s expected cone. I am awaiting an update on the storm plans for both of these plants. Valero has indicated that it expects its two refineries in Corpus Christi to continue to operate normally.

September 8, 2008

Update on Gustav, Part 3

Filed under: Carbon Black, General — Notch @ 11:25 am

As of the weekend, five carbon black plants remained shut down due to Hurricane Gustav:

Cabot Corp. – Franklin, LA
Cabot Corp. – Ville Platte, LA
Evonik Degussa – New Iberia, LA (Ivanhoe)
Columbian Chemicals – Franklin, LA (North Bend)
Sid Richardson – Addis, LA

Together, these five plants account for 42% of US carbon black capacity. Reports from suppliers are consistent: little damage to plants but all are awaiting power to restart. Regional power companies have not made promises about when power would be restored, but all suppliers expected (or hoped) to have power restored today (Monday) or tomorrow and to resume production by mid-week. Additionally, Evonik Degussa shut down its plant in Orange, Texas prior to the hurricane but the plant came back up late last week when natural gas was resumed.

Rail service in the area was disrupted by the storm (see photos, below) but damage overall was minimal, and rail companies with operations in Texas and Louisiana largely restored operations by September 3/4.

I have heard from a few people concerned about possible shortages, but so far suppliers report they have enough spare capacity at other plants to fill contracts. Also, at least one supplier is shipping out of inventory at one of the shutdown plants. Another reports that it was able to get several hopper cars out of the plant just before the shutdown. Assuming that all of these plants can restart this week (and that Hurricane Ike doesn’t cause further delays, see below), suppliers do not expect significant shortages.

Here is an informative blog that provides updates on services in the region.

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A supplier sent the photos below, taken early last week by their logistics team in the immediate wake of Gustav. Several barges and ships in the New Orleans area broke loose from their moorings and were threatening rail bridges. This situation caused east-bound rail shipments through the New Orleans area to be diverted north to Memphis or East St. Louis.

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Hurricane Ike

As of Monday morning, it was being forecast that Hurricane Ike would make landfall in the US (assuming it misses the Florida Keys) late Saturday or early Sunday somewhere in the vicinity of Galveston, Texas. Track it live here.

An evacuation order for the Florida Keys was canceled after the storm veered south and west. The storm weakened to a Category 2 over Cuba, but caused extensive damage and loss of life in Haiti.

On Sunday, September 7, 2008, Governor Jindal declared a state of emergency in preparation for Hurricane Ike.

September 4, 2008

Update on Gustav, Part II

Filed under: Uncategorized — Notch @ 2:31 pm

The news coming out of the Gulf is fairly consistent, minimal damage from the storm but extensive damage to electrical power transmission due to downed lines caused by high winds, particularly around Baton Rouge.

From the Associated Press,

The path of Hurricane Gustav offered New Orleans a reprieve, but 80 miles away where utilities say the devastation was the worst they have ever seen, the storm offered nothing but punishment.

The region’s top power company, Entergy Corp., said the Baton Rouge area has never suffered damage as severe as that caused by Gustav. The last storm that caused damage close to Gustav was in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida, crossed the Gulf of Mexico and then slammed Louisiana.

The Department of Energy said Thursday morning that 1 million customers are without power, including 925,963 in Louisiana. That is down nearly 200,000 customers from Wednesday afternoon.

Entergy is reporting 664,857 customers without power Thursday afternoon, down from a peak of 850,000 Tuesday morning and the second most in the utility’s 95-year history trailing only Katrina in 2005 when the utility had 1.1 million outages. Entergy said most customers in Arkansas should have power back by the end of Friday.

Rubber & Plastics News (subscription required) is reporting that Lion Copolymer’s SBR plant in Baton Rouge and EPDM plant in Geismar both sustained only minimal damage. The SBR plant plans to resume production early next week, contingent upon power being restored by Friday (September 5). No word yet on startup at the Geismar plant.

ExxonMobil has provided an update on the situation on its website.

ExxonMobil Baton Rouge personnel are continuing a detailed damage assessment and have begun clean-up and restoration activities. At this time, the Baton Rouge Complex, which includes Refining and Chemical facilities, continues to be shut down due to damage associated with Gustav. We are assessing restart options, but are unable to provide a restart schedule at this time.

Chalmette Refining is also conducting assessments to determine the impact of Gustav. A damage assessment team is at the facility, and based upon initial assessments damage does not appear to be severe. Restart plans have been developed pending results of the final damage assessment, but we are unable to provide a restart schedule at this time.

September 3, 2008

Gustav Causes SR Shutdowns

Filed under: General — Notch @ 2:38 pm

Rubber & Plastics News (subscription required) is reporting that Hurricane Gustav has damaged Lion Copolymer’s SBR plant in Baton Rouge and its EPDM plant in Geismar. Both plants were shut down prior to the storm. The article reports that power is out in the entire industrial area of Baton Rouge. Damage assessment is currently underway at both plants, and Lion Copolymer would not speculate on a recovery plan.

From other sources, it was reported that the ExxonMobil refinery in Baton Rouge reduced production to half-capacity prior to the storm on Sunday but shut down completely on Monday afternoon due to an area-wide electrical power loss caused by high winds.

In other SR supply news, Lanxess announced a price increase for synthetic rubber effective September 1, 2008. The increase affects EPDM, NBR, HNBR, and CR. Here is the release.

Specialty chemicals company LANXESS AG is to increase its prices for synthetic rubber grades effective September 1, 2008. According to an announcement by the Technical Rubber Products business unit, the worldwide price increases per metric ton will comprise up to USD 300 for Buna EP (EPDM), up to USD 440 for Perbunan/Krynac (NBR) and up to USD 2,200 for Therban (HNBR). The price adjustment for Baypren (CR) will be set at up to USD 250 per metric ton in the regions Europe and Middle East (EMEA) and Latin America (LATAM).

Lanxess press release.

September 2, 2008

Update on Hurricane Gustav

Filed under: Carbon Black, General, Silica — Notch @ 12:31 pm

The eye of Hurricane Gustav made landfall in the United States on September 1 at 9:30 a.m. near Cocodrie, Louisiana, which is about 70 miles southwest of New Orleans. By the time of landfall, the storm had been downgraded from a Category 3 to a strong Category 2, dropping to Category 1 by early afternoon on September 1 as it moved northwest across southern Louisiana at about 15 mph. As of early morning on September 2, it had been downgraded to a Tropical Depression, with winds of 35 mph. Here is the track of the storm from weather.com.

There are three carbon black plants in the immediate area of landfall and three more in the surrounding area. Those closest to landfall are Cabot Franklin (Franklin, LA), Columbian North Bend (Franklin, LA) and Evonik Degussa Ivanhoe (Ivanhoe, LA). All three of these plants shut down over the weekend as the region prepared for the storm. Together, these three plants account for 25% of US carbon black capacity. Other carbon black plants in the vicinity are Cabot in Ville Platte, LA, Evonik Degussa in Orange, Texas, and Sid Richardson in Addis, Louisiana. Together, these three plants account for 21% of US carbon black capacity. These three plants were also shut down prior to the storm. PPG Industries operates a major precipitated silica plant in Lake Charles, LA, but it looks as though this plant was well outside the path of the storm.

Suppliers in the region are still assessing the damage, but the initial report from one carbon black supplier is that the preliminary news was relatively good. Certainly the damage is much less extensive than that caused by Hurricane Rita in 2005, where the region saw serious flooding due to the storm surge. Of course, in addition to direct damage from the storm and flooding, the plants will need to contend with power outages, feedstock supplies, worker availability, and the status of rail lines and barge traffic.

As of Tuesday morning, Evonik Degussa has reported that Ivanhoe will be down for at least 4 or 5 days due to power and worker availability, while Orange is also shut down but will be up sooner. Columbian reports that it was able to move a number of full hopper cars out of Franklin just prior to the storm; it is still assessing the plant’s post-storm situation. Sid Richardson reports only cosmetic damage to Addis (near Baton Rouge), but the plant is currently inaccessible due to downed power lines in the area. Other suppliers are still assessing the situation.

More on this as word comes in.

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Update: Columbian expects North Bend employees to return on Thursday and, depending on conditions, plans to have the plant back up fully by Monday, September 8. Sid Richardson expects personnel to be back in the Addis plant by Wednesday but is awaiting word on electricity.

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