U.S. crude oil exports from Gulf Coast ports are soaring — in January they averaged well over 2 MMb/d — and when you’re moving large volumes long distances by water, there’s no vessel as efficient as a Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC). A number of midstream companies are planning costly offshore terminals that could fully load 2-MMbbl VLCCs, but jobs like that take years, and Moda Midstream is in no mood to wait. Since it acquired Occidental Petroleum’s (Oxy) Ingleside marine terminal near Corpus Christi last September, Moda has been adding new tankage and loading equipment to enable it to load up to 1.25 MMbbl onto a VLCC within 24 hours from arrival to departure, then send the supertanker out to the deep waters of the Gulf for a quick top-off via reverse lightering. Upon completion of further expansion programs, the terminal’s loading capabilities will reach a combined 160 thousand barrels per hour (Mb/hour) among its three berths. Today, we discuss recent and near-term enhancements at Texas’s newest VLCC loading facility.
The ability for U.S. crude exporters to at least partially load supertankers from land-based ports along the Gulf Coast is a relatively nascent development. The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP), which is located 17 miles off the coast of Port Fourchon, LA, in waters 110 feet deep, has been receiving VLCCs loaded to the gills with 2-MMbbl of imported crude since the early 1980s, and first tried its hand at fully loading a VLCC for export last February. LOOP has since loaded and sent out another 10 VLCCs. But loading these crude-carrying behemoths from a land-based terminal is a much more challenging process, mainly because of port draft limits. A water depth of at least 75 feet is needed to fill a VLCC to its brim, and extensive government approvals and maintenance budgets are needed for companies to dredge that deep.
The first land-based port along the Gulf Coast to partially load a VLCC was the Seaway terminal in Texas City, TX, which is jointly owned by Enterprise Products Partners and Enbridge. The terminal first accomplished a partial loading in July 2018 (see Standing On The Shore for more details on the evolution of VLCC-loading last year).