For months, a fleet of crude oil tanker vessels have waited in line to approach the congested public docks of the Port of Corpus Christi, Texas. The object of their shipping desire is one of the US’ hottest commodities: light, sweet and relatively cheap Eagle Ford Shale crude.
Barges and ships rotate into the loading docks around the clock, but the backlog is building, port officials said. For shippers often adrift in the waiting waters, congestion along the port has grown increasingly worse since late last year.
“The longest [wait] I’ve seen is about seven days,” Ray Harrison, the port’s assistant harbor master said last Friday.
On the same day, four articulated tug barges (ATBs) and two ships, all capable of handling between 100,000 to 300,000 barrels, waited for dock space to load the low-cost shale crude. A slew of inland barges was also waiting nearby.
From January through May, outbound crude shipments from the Port of Corpus Christi rose to 342,334 b/d from 264,383 b/d, according to the most recent port data regarding shipments. In January 2012, there were zero outbound crude shipments from the port.
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Eagle Ford production has ramped up nearly ten-fold in three years, and is expected to hit around 900,000 b/d this year and nearly 1.6 million b/d by 2020.
The Eagle Ford shale begins about 65 miles north of Corpus Christi, where the production is primarily sent. The port is positioned “as a direct route for moving products to domestic markets as foreign crude imports have declined,” according to its website. From Corpus Christi, the Eagle Ford crude is sent by vessel to Houston and Louisiana refineries.
As Eagle Ford production grows, loading volumes are expected to rise from the port, said Frank Brogan, the port’s managing director. To accommodate shipments several port-owned and third-party dock projects underway to expand space, he said.
It’s necessary to increase the loading capacity at the port to keep up with customer demand, but adding dock space won’t limit congestion through the port’s narrow waterways, said Tony Allejandro, the port’s director of operations and harbor master.
This month a new public dock capable of handling two 30,000 barrel barges at one time will open.
Late last week, port officials approved construction of another new public oil dock to handle four 30,000 barges. The dock is being constructed in association with a resins plant being built on the premises. It could take up to two years for the dock to go into service.
In addition, two ship oil dock projects will be built on port-owned land but leased to private companies, Brogan said. These docks are designed to load ships with a 500,000 barrel capacity, he said. Both projects have been permitted. Construction should begin within the next 90 days and will take about six to 12 months.
Trafigura Terminals is adding a second deep water dock with a 45 foot draft, and the capability of loading an Aframax-sized vessel at the port. In combination with the company’s current facilities, the new dock would allow the terminal to berth three medium-range tankers and two inland barges at the same time, according to the company’s web site. The dock, being built on private land, should be completed in the next three to four months, Brogan said.