Katrina Hits Gulf Oil Patch

Ted Falgout, port director of Port Fourchon, the biggest energy port on the Gulf, tells Steve Inskeep about the impact that Hurricane Katrina is having on oil production in the Gulf of Mexico. Oil prices are approaching $70 a barrel.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Oil prices have pushed nearly $70 a barrel this morning, in part, thanks to worries about Hurricane Katrina. It's cutting through the oil drilling and refining area along the Louisiana coastline. To talk about just what's at stake we've called Ted Falgout. He is the Port director at Port Fourchon, the biggest energy port on the Gulf of Mexico. He's now in Galiano, Louisiana, which is located about 20 miles inland from the port and not that far from the eye of the storm.

Mr. Falgout, good morning.

Mr. TED FALGOUT (Director, Port Fourchon): Good morning.

INSKEEP: What have you been able to see from where you are?

Mr. FALGOUT: Well, we're seeing sustained winds over--it would appear to be well over a hundred miles an hour now, and it's just a solid sheet of rain. It's very difficult to see any distance. It appears that we're in the middle of the storm.

INSKEEP: Now when you think about this network of wells and pipelines and refineries all over southern Louisiana and parts of the water as well, what are the vulnerable spots?

Mr. FALGOUT: Well, certainly, you know, oil and gas infrastructure is potentially vulnerable to this class of a storm. We have not experienced this class of a storm ever in this particular area. And it is certainly difficult to give an estimate on what the damages might be, but certainly there will be some infrastructure damage to the oil and gas operations offshore. Land side, there will be impacts as well.

INSKEEP: How much do we rely on oil from this part of the world?

Mr. FALGOUT: Huge amount. At the end of the day, about a third of the domestic production for this country comes out of the Gulf of Mexico and this particular area is servicing and producing about 50 percent of that 30 percent production.

INSKEEP: And just very briefly, is there a scenario in your mind under which there could be a disruption of more than a few days here?

Mr. FALGOUT: There very well could be. Depending on what this storm churns up and the impacts on pipelines and platforms and drilling rigs on the Gulf, certainly we could see an impact far beyond a week or so. This is the center of oil and gas production in the Gulf where the storm came through. It certainly is going to have some impact. Certainly Ivan--wow, hold on--something just broke loose and banged against our building here. But...

INSKEEP: Mr. Falgout, do you think you're safe where you are?

Mr. FALGOUT: Well, we're in a very strong building, inside of our hurricane protection levy system that surrounds our community, but certainly subject to being overtopped but we feel quite comfortable. We have about 50 people in our offices now, it kind of looks like a refugee camp but all of our harbor police and sheriff's office personnel and emergency personnel are bunkering down here, and we're waiting the storm.

INSKEEP: Ted Falgout directs the biggest energy port in the Gulf of Mexico. Mr. Falgout, thanks very much and stay safe.

Mr. FALGOUT: Pleasure talking to you.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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