, Sept 24 -- The gates of Exxon Mobil Corp.'s Baytown refinery complex are closed. The wind is whipping wildly. And branches are strewn across roadways. But the 200 or so workers who spent the night inside an explosion-proof center at the refinery complex have found that the facility apparently survived the hurricane with little real damage.
"The early indications are we got through this pretty good," said Bob Bailes, plant manager of the Baytown Olefins Plant, one of the largest ethylene plants in the world.
Still, it may be days before operations resume, Exxon spokeswoman Jeanne Miller said in an interview at the company's sprawling 3,400-acre Baytown complex.
The complex includes the nation's largest oil refinery, the Olefins plant, the Baytown chemical plant, a technology and engineering complex, and the Mont Belvieu plastics plant. Crude oil is separated at the refinery, with part turned into gasoline. The rest is sent to the two chemical plants, which produce chemicals used to make things such as plastics, crayons and tires.
The refinery can process 564,000 barrels of crude oil a day, Miller said, and provides fuel to at least nine states.
She said it's unclear exactly when operations can begin again.
One main factor is when workers can return. About 3,450 Exxon Mobil employees and another 1,349 contractors work there. Many may have evacuated the area.
Another is when the Port of Houston can reopen. The refinery receives its crude shipments through the port. In addition, the company has to make sure the facilities that power its operations are safe to use.
"We have to be able to plan each step," Miller said. "There is a virtual army of folks working on it."
"By the end of the weekend, we'll have a better sense of when we can fuel the nation again," Bailes said.
When the facility closed Friday at noon, it was the first time in its 88-year history that its management had decided to stop operating. Before making the decision, Exxon hired a weather service, which gave it frequent updates. By early in the week, the weather service was telling Exxon officials that a Category 5 hurricane was headed straight for nearby Galveston.
As it turned out, Baytown, about 25 miles east of Houston, escaped with apparently minor damage. Most damage appeared to be caused by wind. Trees and power lines were down. Traffic lights were hanging perilously from wires. Debris was tossed across roads. But there was very little standing water.
Miller and other refinery officials today began calling non-essential employees, first to make sure their families and homes were safe and second to ask when they could get back to work.
"We all know the importance of our business," Miller said. The reopening process right now is "a balance between safety and an urgent need for fuel."