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Reuters: Dead raccoon sabotages Shell LA Wilmington Refinery

Headline: Animals trip L.A. refineries, boost gasoline prices

By Erwin Seba

HOUSTON (Reuters) – A raccoon and an opossum separately set off electrical power disruptions at two Los Angeles-area refineries on Sunday night and Monday morning, boosting gasoline prices on the U.S. West Coast.

Wholesale gasoline prices jumped 7 cents in the Los Angeles market at word of the upsets on Monday morning.

An opossum in a Southern California Edison commercial customer substation and a raccoon in a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power substation upset power supplies to the refineries within an hour of each other late Sunday night.

The Southern California Edison substation in Torrance tripped off-line at about 9 p.m. PST on Sunday (0500 GMT Monday), spokesman Tom Boyd said. The opossum’s carcass was found by workers at the substation.

Exxon Mobil Corp.’s 150,000-barrel-per-day (bpd) Torrance refinery lost power at about that time, setting off a two-hour disruption in operations, said spokeswoman Carolin Keith. The company was back at planned production on Monday morning.

At about 10:20 p.m. PST Sunday, a Los Angeles Water and Power substation in Wilmington, California, switched offline, cutting power to a Shell Oil Co. refinery for about 10 seconds, said the utility’s spokeswoman Kim Hughes.

A dead raccoon was found in the substation, Hughes said.

Shell began flaring at the 100,000-bpd Wilmington refinery on Sunday night and the company was working to restore normal operations on Monday, refinery spokeswoman Brissa Sotelo said.

Motor fuels production at Valero Energy Corp.’s 135,000-bpd Wilmington refinery was not affected as the brief power upset was only felt at Valero’s asphalt plant, located five miles from the refinery, said spokeswoman Mary Rose Brown.

BP Plc and ConocoPhillips said their refineries were unaffected by the power outages.

Chevron Corp. did not reply to questions about operations at its 260,000-bpd El Segundo, California, refinery, though wholesale gasoline traders said they thought the refinery was affected by the power problems.

Prices for gasoline made to meet California’s strict environmental standards jumped 7 cents in the L.A. wholesale market on Monday morning at word of electrical power problems at area refineries.

The L.A. market is already tight because of annual refinery overhauls underway at California refineries and the shutdown of Valero’s Sunray, Texas, refinery by a February 16 fire. The Sunray refinery supplies gasoline to Arizona, which is also fed by the Los Angeles plants.

Animals crawling into electrical substations and transformers is not uncommon and disrupting power is not uncommon, Hughes said. The animals either chew into cables or their body forms a connection between two circuits.

“You never know how they will get into stuff,” she said.

Like raccoons, opossums are nocturnal and can be found in urban environments, where they eat pet food, rotten fruit, and various human garbage.

Mon Mar 5, 2007 10:46PM EST

© Reuters 2006. All rights reserved.

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