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Hurricane poses trouble for East Coast energy infrastructure

Hurricane Matthew is threatening energy infrastructure including power transmission and distribution lines along the East Coast, where power has already been knocked out for thousands.

On track to move north along with the East Coast as far as North Carolina this weekend, Matthew brings with it potential torrential rainfall, storm surges and flooding to the region, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). 

While there are no petroleum refineries or natural gas processing plants along the East Coast from Florida to Maryland, some product terminals could be impacted, possibly reducing energy imports, said the EIA, which noted four states -- Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia -- declared states of emergency ahead of the storm’s arrival.

Hurricane Sandy, the last major hurricane to hit the region, was a Category 1 storm by the time it made landfall in New Jersey in October 2012, downing power lines and flooding electric substations and leaving more than 8 million customers in the dark, said the EIA. Sandy also damaged fuel distribution networks and crude oil and petroleum product terminals, and the lack of electricity left many service stations unable to provide gasoline.

The EIA, an arm of the U.S. Department of Energy, maintains an energy disruption map that shows energy infrastructure and real-time storm information to help analysts assess potential energy-related storm effects. The map also contains links to Emergency Situation Reports and other websites that provide updates on the effect of severe weather.

GasBuddy, a retail gasoline price comparison site, maintains a crowd-sourced tracking tool to determine fuel availability at thousands of retail stations in the Southeast, and the EIA’s U.S. Electric System Operating Data tool provides real-time information on electricity demand and shows areas where service has been disrupted.  

On Thursday, electricity demand in parts of Florida was lower than forecast as the weather worsened and customers evacuated the area.

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