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Offshore Port Proposed for Corpus Christi

The Mt Astra sails fully loaded under the Harbor Bridge on April 6 after filling up with crude oil at Buckeye Partner’s newly modified dock in the Corpus Christi Ship Channel. Courtesy photo

A Swiss commodities trader has applied to build an offshore, deep-water port near Corpus Christi in the Gulf of Mexico, a move that the Port of Corpus Christi opposes. Trafigura US Inc. wants to avoid the increasing ship traffic at the Port of Corpus Christi by building a deep-water port capable of fully loading supermax and larger ships. The port called offshore ports environmental hazards because they do not have to follow strong state air-quality standards.

Very large crude carriers, or VLCCs, are the most efficient and economical way to transport crude oil, according to industry experts. Most ports, including the Port of Corpus Christi, cannot fully load a VLCC because of current infrastructure.

Fixing that problem in Corpus Christi is already underway. The port recently approved $217 million in bonds to pay for dredging and widening the Corpus Christi Ship Channel. The work is necessary for the larger ships to load in the port. Currently, the bigger ships are only partially loaded at a dock. Smaller ships transport oil and gas products to the VLCCs out in the Gulf.

Trafigura said the increase in crude oil shipments, since a 40-year-long ban on U.S. exports to foreign countries was lifted in 2016, makes the offshore facility necessary. Based in Houston, the Swiss trader formed the company Texas Gulf Terminals Inc., which applied for an offshore port facility in July. It would be connected by pipeline to an onshore terminal close to the Corpus Christi port. Texas Gulf Terminals was considered the largest U.S. crude and condensate exporter in 2017.

“The Texas Gulf Terminals Project will give U.S. crude oil producers, particularly Texas operators, safer, cleaner, and more efficient access to very large crude carriers,” said Corey Prologo, director of Texas Gulf Terminals Inc., and Trafigura, North America. “(This ensures) that the economic and employment benefits of increasing domestic crude production can be fully realized right here at home.”

The Port of Corpus Christi disagrees. Port CEO Sean Strawbridge outlined the reasons at a July meeting in Port Aransas after another group, Port Aransas Conservancy, suggested a similar proposal. The conservancy group is opposed to the dredging for environmental reasons and stated that offshore loading would be better for the environment.

Strawbridge pointed out that loading crude oil releases vapors into the air. At a dock, that release is sequestered in vapor-recovery systems as required by state law. Those laws don’t apply 9 nautical miles out from the shoreline.

“When you go outside the state waters, they’re just releasing those vapors into the atmosphere,” Strawbridge said. “So, today, that activity is already having a negative impact on the environment.”

According to Trafigura, U.S. crude oil exports are expected to increase to 4.8 million barrels per day by 2022. The proposed terminal would be able to handle about 10 percent of that growth and would not be a threat to port business, Prologo said.

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