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Supply Chain Risk

Harvey Hampers Third of U.S. Refining Capacity

Overall economic impact may reach $100 billion.
By: | September 5, 2017 • 4 min read

Coast Guard personnel walks through Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) as the top layer blows off spilled oil at a Kinder Morgan Liquid Terminal in Houston, Texas, Aug. 30, 2017. AFFF is a safety measure used to prevent exposed petroleum from igniting. Photo: U.S. Coast Guard

From the newest export terminals for liquefied natural gas to refineries first built before World War II, Hurricane Harvey’s track from Corpus Christi, Texas to Louisiana could not have been better designed to imperil the heart of North America’s refining and petrochemical industry.

Andrew Coburn, director, External Advisory Board, Cambridge Centre for Risk Studies

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) reported that six refineries around Corpus, seven running from Houston to Galveston, and two more in Beaumont and Port Arthur shut down. Five others across the region were operating at reduced rates. Those closures comprise refining capacity of almost 4 million barrels per day.

That represents about 40 percent of total capacity along the Gulf Coast, and 21 percent of total U.S. refining capacity. The five refineries operating at reduced rates represent a further 1.5 million b/d, or 16 percent of Gulf Coast capacity and 8 percent of total U.S. capacity. That raises the total national capacity impinged to a stunning 29 percent. Beyond the processing capacity, at least 11 oil and gas pipelines were shut or operating at reduced rates either because of actual flooding or for lack of volume.

The Cambridge Centre for Risk Studies tracks the economic activity of 300 cities around the world assessing them for the implications of shocks and disruptions. According to Andrew Coburn, director of the advisory board, the core gross domestic product (GDP) for Houston is $314 billion. In January the center ran a model of a storm similar to Harvey hitting Houston and estimated that the total economic hit to that GDP at $60 billion. The GDP of the greater Houston area is about $500 billion. Proportionally that would put storm disruption at $100 billion.

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“Beyond the immediate impact to industry,” said Coburn, “there is also the disruption to the national and global supply chains.” Houston is a major rail center, container port, crude-oil and fuels port, air hub, and trucking center.

Upstream of the refineries, oil and gas production offshore as well as in the prolific Eagle Ford shale formation in south Texas is heavily reduced. Jeff Quigley, director of energy markets for Stratas Advisors, said during an August 30 webinar that he expected offshore production to come back sooner rather than later. Onshore production, however, was harder to forecast because it is so decentralized.

“Beyond the immediate impact to industry, there is also the disruption to the national and global supply chains.” — Andrew Coburn, director, External Advisory Board, Cambridge Centre for Risk Studies

David Robertson, global head of energy risk consulting for Allianz estimated that about 800,000 b/d of oil production was impacted, which is close to 10 percent of the national total. “That is having a predictable impact on pricing.” He added that the pipelines and are under particular pressure.

Several insurance and process-industries sources noted that refineries and chemical plants along the Gulf Coast are designed to withstand hurricanes, and that operators had sufficient time to wind down operations and secure the facilities. However, pipe racks, pumps, and tanks are all vulnerable to leaking, floating, or being displaced by water or debris.

“The refineries are run by sharp people who have learned important lessons from previous hurricanes,” said Robertson. “They have a good track record for operations, especially at a steady state. Historically the largest losses in the industry have not come from storms but from incidents on start up, shut down, or maintenance.”

The notable exception to facilities being secured is the Arkema peroxide plant northeast of Houston in Crosby, Texas. When the plant was flooded and lost its generators, the peroxides could not be kept cooled and auto-ignited in a series of fires that caused toxic releases. Why that facility was more vulnerable than others to flooding has yet to be determined.

Other than that there have yet been no reports of major damage to industry as a result of the storm. “The waters are only just starting to go down but we have not heard of any significant damage to refineries or chemical plants,” said John A. Rathmell, Jr., president of Lockton marine and energy, and a former Risk & Insurance Power Broker.

“A lot of our clients in the energy and chemical sector have been through multiple storms. They have hardened their faculties by raising critical equipment off the ground. So far we have not heard of any problems with process unit integrity.”

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Two other common concerns are pollution and business interruption (BI). The latter is not likely to apply broadly, Rathmell explained, because most of the major oil and chemical companies retain those risks. Those that do buy BI coverage may have 30- or 45-day waiting periods, more commonly 60- or 90-day.

Pollution liability is much more complicated, he added. Unless it can clearly be demonstrated that a substance leaked from a certain facility, then contamination is likely to be considered ambient in such a massive flood. Hundreds of gas stations, warehouses, junk yards, and dumps were inundated by Harvey.

Gregory DL Morris is an independent business journalist based in New York with 25 years’ experience in industry, energy, finance and transportation. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Focus: Workers' Comp

Do You Have Employees or Gig Workers?

The number of gig economy workers is growing in the U.S. But their classification as contractors leaves many without workers’ comp, unemployment protection or other benefits.
By: and | July 30, 2018 • 5 min read

A growing number of Americans earn their living in the gig economy without employer-provided benefits and protections such as workers’ compensation.

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With the proliferation of on-demand services powered by digital platforms, questions surrounding who does and does not actually work in the gig economy continue to vex stakeholders. Courts and legislators are being asked to decide what constitutes an employee and what constitutes an independent contractor, or gig worker.

The issues are how the worker is paid and who controls the work process, said Bobby Bollinger, a North Carolina attorney specializing in workers’ compensation law with a client roster in the trucking industry.

The common law test, he said, the same one the IRS uses, considers “whose tools and whose materials are used. Whether the employer is telling the worker how to do the job on a minute-to-minute basis. Whether the worker is paid by the hour or by the job. Whether he’s free to work for someone else.”

Legal challenges have occurred, starting with lawsuits against transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft. Several court cases in recent years have come down on the side of allowing such companies to continue classifying drivers as independent contractors.

Those decisions are significant for TNCs, because the gig model relies on the lower labor cost of independent contractors. Classification as an employee adds at least 30 percent to labor costs.

The issues lie with how a worker is paid and who controls the work process. — Bobby Bollinger, a North Carolina attorney

However, a March 2018 California Supreme Court ruling in a case involving delivery drivers for Dynamex went the other way. The Dynamex decision places heavy emphasis on whether the worker is performing a core function of the business.

Under the Dynamex court’s standard, an electrician called to fix a wiring problem at an Uber office would be considered a general contractor. But a driver providing rides to customers would be part of the company’s central mission and therefore an employee.

Despite the California ruling, a Philadelphia court a month later declined to follow suit, ruling that Uber’s limousine drivers are independent contractors, not employees. So a definitive answer remains elusive.

A Legislative Movement

Misclassification of workers as independent contractors introduces risks to both employers and workers, said Matt Zender, vice president, workers’ compensation product manager, AmTrust.

“My concern is for individuals who believe they’re covered under workers’ compensation, have an injury, try to file a claim and find they’re not covered.”

Misclassifying workers opens a “Pandora’s box” for employers, said Richard R. Meneghello, partner, Fisher Phillips.

Issues include tax liabilities, claims for minimum wage and overtime violations, workers’ comp benefits, civil labor law rights and wrongful termination suits.

The motive for companies seeking the contractor definition is clear: They don’t have to pay for benefits, said Meneghello. “But from a legal perspective, it’s not so easy to turn the workforce into contractors.”

“My concern is for individuals who believe they’re covered under workers’ compensation, have an injury, try to file a claim and find they’re not covered in the eyes of the state.” — Matt Zender, vice president, workers’ compensation product manager, AmTrust

It’s about to get easier, however. In 2016, Handy — which is being sued in five states for misclassification of workers — drafted a N.Y. bill to establish a program where gig-economy companies would pay 2.5 percent of workers’ income into individual health savings accounts, yet would classify them as independent contractors.

Unions and worker advocacy groups argue the program would rob workers of rights and protections. So Handy moved on to eight other states where it would be more likely to win.

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So far, the Handy bills have passed one house of the legislature in Georgia and Colorado; passed both houses in Iowa and Tennessee; and been signed into law in Kentucky, Utah and Indiana. A similar bill was also introduced in Alabama.

The bills’ language says all workers who find jobs through a website or mobile app are independent contractors, as long as the company running the digital platform does not control schedules, prohibit them from working elsewhere and meets other criteria. Two bills exclude transportation network companies such as Uber.

These laws could have far-reaching consequences. Traditional service companies will struggle to compete with start-ups paying minimal labor costs.

Opponents warn that the Handy bills are so broad that a service company need only launch an app for customers to contract services, and they’d be free to re-classify their employees as independent contractors — leaving workers without social security, health insurance or the protections of unemployment insurance or workers’ comp.

That could destabilize social safety nets as well as shrink available workers’ comp premiums.

A New Classification

Independent contractors need to buy their own insurance, including workers’ compensation. But many don’t, said Hart Brown, executive vice president, COO, Firestorm. They may not realize that in the case of an accident, their personal car and health insurance won’t engage, Brown said.

Matt Zender, vice president, workers’ compensation product manager, AmTrust

Workers’ compensation for gig workers can be hard to find. Some state-sponsored funds provide self-employed contractors’ coverage.  Policies can be expensive though in some high-risk occupations, such as roofing, said Bollinger.

The gig system, where a worker does several different jobs for several different companies, breaks down without portable benefits, said Brown. Portable benefits would follow workers from one workplace engagement to another.

What a portable benefits program would look like is unclear, he said, but some combination of employers, independent contractors and intermediaries (such as a digital platform business or staffing agency) would contribute to the program based on a percentage of each transaction.

There is movement toward portable benefits legislation. The Aspen Institute proposed portable benefits where companies contribute to workers’ benefits based on how much an employee works for them. Uber and SEI together proposed a portable benefits bill to the Washington State Legislature.

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Senator Mark Warner (D. VA) introduced the Portable Benefits for Independent Workers Pilot Program Act for the study of portable benefits, and Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (D. WA) introduced a House companion bill.

Meneghello is skeptical of portable benefits as a long-term solution. “They’re a good first step,” he said, “but they paper over the problem. We need a new category of workers.”

A portable benefits model would open opportunities for the growing Insurtech market. Brad Smith, CEO, Intuit, estimates the gig economy to be about 34 percent of the workforce in 2018, growing to 43 percent by 2020.

The insurance industry reinvented itself from a risk transfer mechanism to a risk management mechanism, Brown said, and now it’s reinventing itself again as risk educator to a new hybrid market. &

Susannah Levine writes about health care, education and technology. She can be reached at [email protected] Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]