Ship traffic jams on Houston Ship Channel slowing export market?

Fuel Fix:
Traffic jams at the Houston Ship Channel caused by extra-large container ships are putting growing exports of crude oil, refined products, natural gas liquids and other petroleum products at risk, an executive with Houston pipeline and storage terminal company Enterprise Products Partners said Thursday.

The company’s senior vice president Tony Chovanec, speaking at a Thursday luncheon hosted by the Greater Houston Port Bureau, said demand from Asia and other foreign markets resulted in a record $141 billion of crude oil, refined products, natural gas liquids and other petroleum product exports from the United States in 2018.

Those exports are expected to grow to $330 billion by 2025. And with two-thirds of those exports coming from the Houston Ship Channel, Chovanec warned that recent traffic jams caused by an extra-large container ships threaten that growth.

Container ships up to 1,100 feet in length reduce the normal two-way traffic in the channel to one-way traffic — meaning that the port’s oil and natural gas customers must sit and wait until given clearance to move their ships. Enterprise, one of the nation’s largest exporters of crude oil and petroleum products, made a $1.3 billion profit on $9.6 billion of revenue during the third quarter.

“All of this is at risk, if we can’t keep two-way traffic,” Chovanec said about his industry’s exports. “We’re very concerned about that constraint.”

Enterprise Product Partners, Kinder Morgan, Targa Resources and four other companies that have invested billions of dollars of invested in export facilities along the Houston Ship Channel. They formed the Coalition for a Fair and Open Port to put the pressure on port officials to limit one-way traffic to one pre-scheduled time per week.

The coalition’s executive director John Rutherford noted that 90 percent of the Houston Ship Channel’s traffic comes from the port’s energy and industrial customers while 10 percent comes from its container business. Rutherford compared the large container ships using the 530-foot wide channel to using an 18-wheeler to deliver packages to a home on a residential street.

“This is the number one industrial and energy port in United States and it’s totally reliant on two-way traffic,” Rutherford said.
They probably should find a way to handle the container traffic at the Port of Galveston which would allow the two-way traffic to be unimpeded in the ship channel.   It would require some work to make that possible in Galveston and would probably lead to more traffic on I-45.

The Houston Ship Channel was dredged after the devastating Galveston hurricane killed hundreds of people.  The dredge material was used to raise the level of the island by several feet.

The other alternative would be to widen the existing channel to allow two-way traffic of the large container ships.


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