Hurricanes Katrina and Rita destroyed 109 oil platforms and five drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, but only a small portion of production will be lost for good, the US government said Tuesday.
Rita accounted for most of the damage in a region that ordinarily produces nearly one-third of US crude oil imports, Interior Secretary Gale Norton said in presenting a preliminary assessment report.
Rita destroyed 63 platforms and one drilling rig when it tore through the region on September 24, she said. Katrina destroyed 46 platforms and four drilling rigs when it hit the Gulf at the end of August.
Katrina also caused extensive damage to another 20 platforms and nine drilling rigs. Rita seriously damaged 30 platforms and 10 drilling rigs.
"The two hurricanes coming so close together really illustrate how much of our offshore production was affected," Norton told the CNBC network.
"We had altogether, with both of the hurricanes, about 2,900 platforms that were in the path of the hurricanes," she said.
"We have no official estimate of the dollar value of the damage and the amount that it will cost to repair those facilities, but it will clearly be in the billions of dollars."
In advance of the hurricanes, crude oil production ground to a halt as Gulf sites were evacuated.
A total of 342 platforms remain evacuated, roughly 40 percent of the manned sites in the Gulf, Norton said.
As a result, 90 percent of crude production and 72 percent of natural gas output is paralysed, she said.
But Norton also stressed that only one of the damaged platforms was built after federal construction standards were tightened in 1988. The ones that were destroyed were nearing the end of their lives.
"As a result, only a very small percentage of production is expected to be permanently lost," she said in a statement.
"Despite such intense winds and powerful waves offshore, we experienced no loss of life or significant spills from any offshore well on the outer continental shelf," Norton added.
by Jitendra Joshi
Bush, speaking at a White House news conference, also renewed appeals for Congress to cut spending in other areas to help meet the mammoth reconstruction bill arising from the powerful storms.
"The storms that hit the Gulf Coast also touched every American with higher prices at the gas (petrol) pump," the president said.
"It ought to be clear to everybody that this country needs to build more refining capacity to be able to deal with the issues of tight supply," he said, calling it "amazing" that no new US refinery has been built in three decades.
The hurricanes of the past month have laid bare the burdens placed on the strained US refinery system. Due in part to tougher environmental regulations and local opposition, the country has not built a refinery since 1976.
Bush said that Washington has "a vital role" to play in the reconstruction of areas left battered by the hurricanes.
"I've also made it clear we do it in a fiscally responsible way. Congress needs to pay for as much of the hurricane relief as possible by cutting spending," he said, calling for "real cuts" in non-security spending.
Bush has run into a storm of his own making from fiscal conservatives in both the Republican and Democratic parties by pledging to spend whatever it takes to rebuild places like New Orleans. Estimates for the eventual bill have gone as high as 200 billion dollars. Under Bush, the US budget deficit has already exploded.
But the president said: "The heart of America is big enough to be generous and responsible at the same time."
While stressing the federal government's role, Bush said that "it must also recognize its limitations".
"The engine that drives growth and job creation in America is the private sector. And the private sector will be the engine that drives the recovery of the Gulf Coast."
Hurricane Katrina and its smaller sister Rita have played havoc with US oil production, knocking out a number of refineries and sending petrol prices soaring.
The surging costs of motoring are identified by pollsters as one reason why Bush's approval ratings have fallen to new lows, along with the federal government's lacklustre response to Katrina's devastating impact.
In an about-face for an administration that previously poured scorn on calls for energy efficiency, Bush a week ago urged Americans to think twice about using their cars for non-essential trips.
Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman followed up the appeal by Monday launching a campaign for households and businesses to conserve energy better.
About three million barrels a day of refining capacity remain shut down owing to the hurricanes' impact along a string of states, notably around New Orleans and Houston, Bodman told the CNBC television network Tuesday.
"The big issue has been getting electric power," he said, adding that "over the next week or so we will see the power restored and then it is going take a period of time for recovery". "I would guess two to four weeks before we see this sector back to where it should be," the secretary said.
Bodman said the government was not planning to tighten fuel-emissions standards for vehicles, arguing that a "voluntary response" by Americans would prove sufficient.
"The president has called for everyone to join together to pitch in, be it the consumer, be it business and industry, or the government for that matter," he said.
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Monster Storms Lay Bare US Refinery Crisis
New York (AFP) Sep 27, 2005
If proof were needed that US oil refineries are stretched to breaking point, the twin hurricanes of Katrina and now Rita have provided ample evidence. Rita had far less of an impact than initially feared after it skirted clear of a slew of vital oil installations in Texas. But it was damaging enough for an industry still reeling from the devastation done by Katrina four weeks ago.
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