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Daily Telegraph: Raccoon pushes up petrol prices

By Catherine Elsworth in Los Angeles
Last Updated: 1:54am GMT 07/03/2007

A raccoon and an opossum were responsible for pushing up petrol prices on the US west coast this week after the creatures disrupted power supplies at Los Angeles area substations, shutting off electricity to two oil refineries.

The separate incidents resulted in a 7 cent (nearly 4 pence) increase in the cost of a gallon of petrol in the west when news of the interruption to supplies broke.

On Sunday evening, an opossum managed to get into a substation operated by the power company Southern California Edison in Torrance, 20 miles south of Los Angeles, and trip the supply. It went offline around 9pm. The opossum’s carcass was later found by workers at the substation.

Power was subsequently cut to Exxon Mobil Corp’s nearby Torrance oil refinery, which processes around 150,000 barrels of crude oil per day, triggering a two hour delay in operations.

Just over an hour later, a raccoon upset supplies at a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power substation in Wilmington, south of Torrance, cutting power to a Shell Oil refinery for about 10 seconds, said Kim Hughes, a spokeswoman.

A dead raccoon was found in the substation, she added.

Shell began flaring – burning off excess materials it could not pump back into processing units.

No other oil companies reported interruptions to their power supply but wholesale petrol traders suspected at least one other refinery was affected.

News of the electrical power problems at the refineries caused prices in the Los Angeles wholesale petrol market to jump seven cents on Monday morning.

The supply of power across southern California, Nevada and Arizona is already stretched because of annual overhauls underway at California refineries and the temporary closure of a major Texas refinery that supplies Arizona following a fire.

Animals crawling into electrical substations and transformers and disrupting power was not an uncommon problem, Ms Hughes said. Systems tend to be tripped by animals either chewing through cables or forming a connection between two circuits with their bodies.

“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 typically feed on pet food and rubbish.


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