Hurricane Season: How Marathon Petroleum Prepares for Nature's Worst

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting five to nine possible hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including one to four major hurricanes (winds of 111 mph or higher), during the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 through November 30. Marathon Petroleum incorporates extreme weather planning into its emergency preparedness and response program, taking additional steps prior to the hurricane season to increase the readiness of facilities, particularly in the Atlantic and Gulf Coast regions.  

The company’s Emergency Preparedness Group (EPG) facilitates meetings of a cross-organizational team called the Hurricane Advisory Committee (HAC), which monitors storms throughout the hurricane season. With as many as 50 participants from various company operating components and organizations, the HAC makes certain the appropriate groups have the latest weather updates and communicate effectively before storms make landfall. Before the onset of the Atlantic hurricane season each year, the HAC meets to review lessons learned from the previous year and ensure the company is prepared for the upcoming season.

“The goal is to review the new season’s predictions and confirm our facilities’ preparedness levels, their risks and the potential impacts they could face,” said Marathon Petroleum Health, Environment and Safety Professional Tracy Cowan of the EPG. “During the season, we stay in contact with operating components, monitor weather patterns and storm activity, and arrange additional HAC calls if needed.” 

Preparation Runs Deep

Marathon Petroleum has continued to invest resources in designing and constructing facilities to hold up under a variety of severe weather conditions. In recent years, new centralized control rooms were built at the company’s Galveston Bay refinery in Texas and its Garyville refinery in Louisiana to withstand hurricane-force winds and storm surges. The company also carefully considers the presence of established infrastructure near its facilities, which provides additional safeguards. An external levee that ranges in height from 19 to 23 feet has protected the Galveston Bay facility from flooding during several storms, including the record rainfall of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. The Garyville refinery is also protected from flooding by an external levee system that runs along the Mississippi River. Additional protection for Garyville will eventually come from an 18-mile levee system called the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System that is currently being constructed through federal and local funding.

Prior to a hurricane or tropical storm arriving at a facility, the local operations team begins monitoring weather developments. Depending on the storm’s projected path, Marathon may implement the facility’s severe weather response plan, activate the local Incident Management Team, reduce the number of employees on site and, if necessary, begin facility shutdown procedures. After a major storm makes landfall, Marathon Petroleum’s Corporate Emergency Response Team is often activated to coordinate efforts to account for all impacted employees and address humanitarian needs, such as home stabilization assistance, temporary housing, food, fuel and other emergency supplies. Simultaneously, the company’s Business Recovery Team shares information among company organizations to support resumption of business operations at affected locations.

Apart from restoring operations, Marathon Petroleum’s core values and culture inspire ongoing assistance to impacted local communities. Multiple company organizations  and employee volunteers get involved in the aftermath of a storm by investing time and financial resources in initiatives to aid recovery. These efforts are further supported by corporate donations.

“Each time that Marathon is impacted by a storm, the company’s primary response team leaders review lessons learned and opportunities for improvement,” Cowan said.  “There will always be ‘unknowns’ involving storms; however, our process allows us to continually strengthen our response plans and tools, so we are even better prepared the next time a storm comes.”

“MPC’s Emergency Preparedness Group works with facilities in the Atlantic and Gulf Coast regions, including the Garyville refinery (above, left) and the Galveston Bay refinery (above, right), to ensure hurricane preparedness. Forecasters predict the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season could involve as many as four major hurricanes.”