The Gulf Coast, a hub for the storage and transport of petrochemicals, is booming with activity. Growth in refining at terminals in Houston and New Orleans, driven by low natural gas prices, can be seen in new plans to increase capacity at petrochemical facilities and major rail lines, as reported by Maritime Executive.
The Greater New Orleans Regional Economic Development organization describes Louisiana as the largest producer of crude oil in the US and the second largest producer of natural gas (that's 20% of domestic natural gas production). Approximately 88% of the nation's offshore oil rigs are located on Louisiana's coast in Louisiana's Outer continental Shelf and the Gulf already claims 47% of the US' refining capacity. Planned refinery and petrochemical plant expansions expected over the next 2-3 years in the area will total $6.4 billion.
The Port of Brownsville, located at the southern terminus of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, had a record-breaking year in 2015, handling more than 10.1 million tons. This surpassed 2014's record-breaking year of 8.4 million tons. Brownsville is mainly a bulk and breakbulk port with a marine terminal that has capacity for liquid and dry cargo. Some of its growth has come from petroleum products and gasoline.
The Port of South Louisiana has begun a $1.85 billion methanol complex for Shandong Yuhuang Chemical Inc. The first phase of this project is expected to open for business in 2018. An additional two projects will follow over the next ten years. 50% of the methanol produced by the first phase will be sold in North America; the balance will be exported globally.
Another project at the Port of South Louisiana involves Pin Oak Terminals which signed a $600 million agreement to build a petroleum liquids storage terminal that can hold up to 10 million barrels and will open late in 2016. The port describes its overall operation as the largest tonnage port in the Western Hemisphere, handling more than 292 million short tons of cargo last year. 4,000 ocean vessels and 55,000 barges call at the port yearly. 69 million short tons were exported in 2015, accounting for 15% of total US exports.
M&G Chemicals announced plans to enlarge its Corpus Christi PET and PTA storage capacity by 100,000 metric tons each per year. The facility is located along the ship channel. Both are petrochemical building blocks for fibers and plastics. The Port is adding direct service by three Class I rail lines. M&G already has contracts for its finished product, some of which will replace imports now coming from Mexico.
The Port of New Orleans is actively engaged in lining up more ocean carriers and services to meet expected increases in petrochemical shipments. Eighty-eight refineries are located within a hundred-mile radius of the Port and more than $6.4 billion in expansions and new construction are planned through 2018. Current activity has already led to a container-on-barge shuttle service from Baton Rouge through the Port of New Orleans, operated by SEACOR AMH.
Port Arthur, in Texas, is also seeing an increase in activity related to petrochemical production as well as exports. It has begun a new project to diversify its businesses with a textile recycling plant, Pure Renewables. Another Texas port, Galveston, is into year two of construction on a new Vehicle Distribution Center for BMW which is operated by WWL Vehicle Services Americas. The Foreign Trade Zone site is expected to import 32,500 vehicles each year.
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