NEW YORK - New York City braced for widespread blackouts as Hurricane Irene churned up the East Coast Saturday, leaving more than 1 million homes and businesses without power in U.S. coastal states further south.
Power generator Exelon idled the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant as a precaution as winds gained force. The plant in Ocean County, New Jersey supplies up to 600,000 homes.
The shutdown is expected to be short and other power supply may be available in the region, a company spokesman said.
"It's really as a precaution, a conservative action because we do expect hurricane force winds," said Exelon spokesman Marshall Murphy.
East Coast oil refineries reduced operations or shut, while pipelines and fuel terminals also scaled back.
ConocoPhillips shutdown the Bayway oil refinery in New Jersey. The U.S. Coast Guard closed the Port of Philadelphia, an oil hub, and restricted some vessel traffic at the larger hub of New York Harbor, which stayed open.
Utility firms warned of more power outages ahead, with Consolidated Edison considering pre-emptive blackouts Sunday in flood-prone downtown Manhattan, including on Wall Street. U.S. stock exchanges were expecting to operate normally on Monday.
Irene cut power to large swaths of Virginia and North Carolina and forced the Brunswick nuclear power plant in Southport, North Carolina to reduce power generation.
Brunswick sustained no damage, but electricity from its two nuclear reactors was cut by 25 to 35 percent, to ensure they can keep running through the storm, said operator Progress Energy.
Progress said 228,000 customers were without power in North Carolina as of 7:33 p.m. EDT. Dominion Resources said around 822,000 of its customers lost power in North Carolina and Virginia. Outages also hit areas in Maryland and Delaware.
NY FINANCIAL DISTRICT MAY LOSE POWER
In New York City, which was bracing for Irene's impact late Saturday into Sunday, intermittent rains began in the afternoon but the power grid suffered few disruptions so far.
That could change as storm surges cause flooding.
"Make sure you know where your flashlights are," Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned New Yorkers at a storm briefing on Saturday.
Utility Consolidated Edison said it wouldn't shut down the city's power pre-emptively, but could cut power early Sunday in low-lying parts of Manhattan, including to 6,000 homes or businesses south of the Brooklyn Bridge. The area includes New York's Financial District.
Irene howled ashore in North Carolina Saturday, weakening to a Category 1 hurricane, and was expected to hit the mid-Atlantic states Saturday night and New England Sunday.
OIL AND GAS OPERATIONS
At least one oil refinery shut and others scaled back in the Northeast, home to 1.2 million barrel per day of capacity.
ConocoPhillips said late Saturday it had shut the 238,000 barrel per day Bayway refinery in Linden, New Jersey to gird against Irene. Sources said the oil major also cut rates at its 185,000 Trainer, Pennsylvania, refinery.
On Friday, rates were cut by 25 percent at Sunoco's Marcus Hook plant in Pennsylvania, sources said. The firm declined comment on operations Saturday.
The U.S. Coast Guard closed the Port of Philadelphia, a major oil hub which typically handles 1 million barrels a day. At 4:00 p.m. EDT it said gale force winds were expected at the port within 12 hours.
The New York Harbor, a delivery hub for crude oil and fuels by pipeline, barge and ship, remained open Saturday with traffic restrictions, including a ban on anchoring of vessels.
The largest U.S. refined oil product pipeline, the 2.37 million barrel a day Colonial that runs from the Gulf Coast to New York, continued operating after warning earlier of potential disruptions to customers along its path. Several coastal oil terminals were forced to shut.
Shipping disruptions may delay oil deliveries to the East Coast, or PADD 1, but the region's plentiful oil inventories lessen the risk of major supply shortages.
Trade group National Petrochemical and Refiners Association said Friday the region's oil terminals held 23 days of gasoline supply and 46 days supply of diesel and heating oil.
Around nine days of crude supply were held in the region's terminals, according to Energy Department data from last week. (Reporting by Janet McGurty, Jeanine Prezioso, David Sheppard and Selam Gebrekidan; Writing by Joshua Schneyer; Editing by Jackie Frank and Todd Eastham)
© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.