Awaiting the onslaught of Hurricane Rita, trucking companies in Texas and Louisiana are working to move assets out of the storm’s path. Attempts to contact the Texas Motor Transport Assn. and the Louisiana Motor Transport Assn. and several trucking operations in the Houston area were unsuccessful as of press time.

The National Hurricane Center said this afternoon the hurricane is expected to hit between Port O’Connor, TX and Morgan City, LA within 24 hours. Rita has been downgraded to a Category 3 hurricane with wind speeds of about 125 mph.

In New Orleans, rain and wind broke one levee and sent water streaming through gaps at least 100 ft wide into the Katrina-devastated Ninth Ward, reported the Associated Press. Much of the neighborhood, which had just days ago been pumped dry, now sits under waist-deep water.

There is one certainty for the trucking industry nationwide, however. In the best case scenario, both gasoline and diesel prices will shoot up at least 10-20 cents per gallon, according to Jacob Bournazian, Energy Information Administration economist.

“Assuming no damage and refineries escape the wrath of this hurricane, prices will rise only 10 to 20 cents,” Bournazian told FleetOwner. “It appears that there are nine refineries directly in the hurricane's path. All those refineries shut down yesterday, including the Port Arthur refinery and the Houston/Texas City/Galveston refinery.

“With those refineries shut down, the oil markets have lost 600,000 barrels of diesel per day,” he said, adding that the scope of the refinery shutdowns is about equivalent to the shutdowns in preparation for Katrina almost four weeks ago.

“If this hurricane does damage to the refineries, you'll see stronger price spikes in excess of the 30-cent range,” he added. “The more severe the impact, the higher the prices will be for a more sustained duration.”

Bournazian declined to forecast how long a price spike would last even in a best-case scenario. “This is unprecedented,” he noted. “We never we had a back-to-back disruption of this scale in the heart of refining industry.”

The Wall Street Journal reported this afternoon that the price of crude oil plummeted $2.30 to $64.20 a barrel as traders speculated that the eye of Rita may swerve north of several major refineries in the Houston area.

The Dept. of Transportation said it has implemented the following trucking-related measures in preparation for Rita:

  • Suspension of hours-of-service (HOS) rule for truck drivers in the affected region so emergency and repair crews will be able to work as needed to support evacuation, recovery and repair operations;
  • Delivered one tanker of diesel fuel, six trucks of tarps, five trucks of plastic sheeting, two trailers filled with cots, one trailer filled with tents and one filled with sleeping bags to FEMA staging areas in Texas;
  • Placed 10 trucks on standby at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio to move additional supplies as needed.