Sixteen natural gas processing plants in Louisiana and Texas that had a pre-hurricane flow volume of 5.45 Bcf/d remain shut down, according to information supplied by Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman to a Senate panel Thursday.

The inactive plants have an aggregate processing capability of 9.71 Bcf/d, Bodman reported to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during a hearing on the recovery efforts. He noted that a total of 27 gas processing facilities were shuttered in the days following Hurricane Rita, which struck the Gulf Coast in late September.

""It will take multiple months to repair processing plants" that suffered "extensive damage," said Interior Secretary Gale Norton. She reported that 45% of the pipelines in the hurricane-impacted areas were operational, 30% still needed repair and 25% were undamaged but could not flow due to downstream problems.

The inoperable processing plants and impaired pipeline operations have been blamed in part for the significant amount of Gulf of Mexico gas production that still remains offline. Interior estimates that 5.6 Bcf/d of Gulf gas production -- representing more than half of the Gulf gas output and 10% of U.S. gas output -- continues to be out of service. Cumulative gas production lost stands at 353.6 Bcf since the twin hurricanes struck.

"It's going to take many more months before we see a full recovery" of energy operations in the Gulf, Norton told lawmakers on the Senate energy panel. She noted that the limited amount of repair equipment and personnel for both offshore and onshore operations will continue to hamper recovery efforts along the Gulf Coast.

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