“From a natural disaster perspective, the impact on the petrochemical space from Uri is much greater than any previous event that we’ve had in recent memory,” said IHS Markit’s Bill Hyde, executive director of olefins and elastomers. “I’ve been associated with the petrochemical space now for 30 years directly, and nothing in my experience is anywhere close to this.”

The impacts are wide ranging, including a reported global plastics shortage. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) recently reported the storm also caused ethanol production to fall to the lowest levels since last spring. Production has since rebounded to average levels, but inventories are below their typical seasonal averages heading into the summer driving season, according to EIA.

Downstream Impacts 

The storm caused widespread power outages in mid-February, impacting homes, businesses, and every ethane cracker in Texas. A number of crackers in nearby Louisiana also went offline because of the storm.

According to Hyde, the plants did not have enough advance warning to shut down their units effectively, making them more susceptible to damage from the freezing weather.

“You cannot shut down an ethylene production unit, as an example, efficiently in 24 hours,” Hyde told NGI. “It just can’t be done. And so the damage from the quick shutdown was much more severe than a normal event would have been.”