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U.S. Refiners Prepare for Flu Emergency

HOUSTON -- U.S. refiners, especially those operating near the Mexican border, are closely monitoring the swine flu outbreak and are preparing contingency plans, according to a Reuters report.

Approximately 25 percent of U.S. fuel production capacity is based in Texas. No refinery units have been idled or slowed yet and companies were not disclosing their plans should workers become ill, according to the report.

Shell Oil Co., which operates four joint-venture refineries on the Gulf Coast, canceled all nonessential travel to Mexico and has given health advice to employees who have traveled there in the past few days.

"Shell is actively monitoring the current situation and in particular the World Health Organization's guidance," the company said in a statement.

Refiners developed plans to deal with a flu pandemic a few years ago when fears about avian flu spiked, according to the Reuters report. They will act based on international and national health agency instructions, the sources said.

"They'll be watching what organizations like WHO say to do," one of the sources told Reuters. "If one of the major public health agencies says to do something, then I think you'd see a lot of companies adjust their operations based on that."

Unlike schools or office buildings, refineries spread across hundreds of acres of land; workers are concentrated in small numbers, giving some protection from the spread of flu. The companies are likely stockpiling medicines to treat flu symptoms and counting on workers to take precautions and report health problems quickly, sources told the news agency.

"These are tough guys doing dangerous work," one of the sources said. "They're not going to take to some guy wearing a tie telling them to wash their hands."
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