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Deeper and Deeper, Encore Edition - Corpus Christi Channel Dredging Is Poised to Boost Oil Export Economics

A long-planned ship-channel deepening and widening project in Corpus Christi Bay is in its last innings and is about to start having a real impact. Later this summer, a 7-foot-deeper channel at Ingleside will enable terminals there to load additional barrels into VLCCs, assuming they’ve dredged their berths to match the deeper channel. Deepening the channel to 54 feet (from the old 47 feet) also will enable terminals that have deepened their berths to fully load 1-MMbbl Suezmaxes, up from the 800-850 Mbbl that can be loaded now. Crude oil export economics in South Texas will get another boost in late 2024 when the fourth and final portion of the $680 million dredging project is completed. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the dredging project, its steady progress, and its impact on the “battle for barrels” among Corpus, the Houston area and a quartet of proposed offshore terminals.

In observance of Independence Day, we’ve given our analysts a break and are revisiting our June 21 blog on Corpus Christi channel dredging, which also serves as a preview of our xPortCon 2023. If you didn’t read it then, this is your opportunity to see what you missed.

It would be impossible to pick our favorite speaker or panel at RBN’s recent xPortCon 2023 conference, but the infrastructure geeks among us really enjoyed the morning panel on “Regional Export Dynamics – Corpus Christi,” which featured Phil Anderson, SVP for Business Development at Enbridge; EPIC Midstream CEO Brian Freed; and Omar Garcia, Chief External Affairs Officer at the Port of Corpus Christi (POCC), which has been spearheading the dredging project. (Videos of the entire xPortCon conference are now available — click here for more information.) For more than 50 minutes, they discussed — in considerable depth (pun intended) — the channel deepening and widening project and its impacts as well as plans for adding pipeline capacity between the Permian and Corpus and building new crude oil storage to support growth in exports.

As we’ve said in a number of blogs, Corpus Christi/Ingleside sprinted into the lead among crude oil exporting areas in late 2019 and early 2020 after the startup of three big new pipelines from West Texas to Corpus: Cactus II, Gray Oak and EPIC Crude. By 2021, Corpus-area marine terminals (gold layer in the Figure 1 graph) accounted for about three out of five exported barrels, and they’ve held that share ever since, sending out an average of nearly 2.2 MMb/d in the first five and a half months of 2023, according to RBN’s weekly Crude Voyager report.

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