Vulnerability of Fuel Distribution Systems to Hazards in Coastal Communities
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Vulnerability of Fuel Distribution Systems to Hazards in Coastal Communities

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    Coastal communities are vulnerable to disruptions in their fuel distribution networks due to tropical storms, hurricanes and associated flooding. These disruptions impact communities by limiting fueling in the days following the storm potentially affecting first responders, other critical infrastructure networks and returning residents. After Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, for example, up to 8% of the nation’s refining capacity remained offline for months substantially impacting national fuel supplies (Kumins and Bamberger, 2006). At the local level, flooded fuel stations prevent distribution of fuel supplies even as refining capacity or regional supply is restored. The fuel distribution network consists of exploration, refining, storage, distribution and transportation elements ultimately ending in the individual fueling stations. Each region has unique supply and distribution characteristics depending on the unequal distribution of refining capacity and pipelines serving regions. Along the Gulf Coast, coastal communities are vulnerable to the elevation and redundancy of the transportation network and the associated fuel station distribution. Even minor flooding can bring a fueling station out of service leading to loss of that capacity to the community until a series of remediation and restoration activities can be completed. While fueling stations can be flood-proofed to some extent, these steps are not consistently required by local, state or federal regulatory structure. Fueling station capacity consists of above ground (AST) or underground (UST) storage tanks connected to a series of individual pumps and dispensers by supply piping. Flooding impacts including displacement of ASTs and USTs through the action of buoyancy forces on the tanks, leaking from the USTs and ASTs, water or debris entering the USTs or ASTs and electrical damage associated with the USTs, ASTs and dispensing and pump systems. Guidance on preventing flood damage is available including the Petroleum Equipment Institute’s (PEI) Recommended Practice 100 and the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) Recommended Practice 1615. These standards focus primarily on proper anchoring of USTs to mitigate the impact of buoyancy forces. Despite this guidance, there is no required set of standards for fueling stations built in coastal communities vulnerable to storm surge. This project had the following objectives, to understand the causes of fuel distribution disruption after coastal hazards and the impact of the coastal community transportation network, to determine the role of fueling station design and environmental regulatory drivers that cause more vulnerability during coastal hazard events and to propose design and mitigation approaches that will result in faster recovery of fuel distribution systems in coastal communities. To address these questions, a network model of the transportation and fuel distribution was built for the Lafourche Parish/Houma, Louisiana system and tested versus the expected level of flooding from storm surge models run at different storm categories. In addition, review of fuel station construction and recovery approaches was conducted to determine whether standards for construction in coastal areas could reduce the frequency of long-term impacts on the fueling network.
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