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Slow Ride - Crude Oil and NGL Export Challenges at the Port of Houston

In terms of raw tonnage, the Port of Houston is by far the busiest in the United States. The 52-mile-long Houston Ship Channel (HSC) — running from just outside downtown Houston out to an area between Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula — is the artery that enables the heavy ship traffic, much of it tied to crude oil, LPG, petroleum products and other hydrocarbons. But in the same way that Houston’s Interstate 45 traffic backs up during the morning commute, the ship channel traffic, which normally runs at about 60% of peak levels, can be (and has been) subject to delays when there’s an accident, visibility problems, or a slow-moving double-wide taking up two lanes. With energy-related export activity on the rise, efforts are underway to address those issues. Today, we begin a series on the issues facing some Texas ports and the measures being taken to help alleviate them.

In honor of Star Wars day tomorrow (May the 4th be with you!), we’ve had our shipping team put together a short video depicting the threats posed by VLCCs to some of the smaller vessels in the fleet.   

Any way you slice it, the Port of Houston serves as one of the most significant conduits in America. It supports 140 docks (with another six under construction) that are home to more than 300 berths. In 2018, HSC had nearly 19,000 ship movements, more than 10,000 of which were tankers. (Note that tankers may have multiple movements per visit to the HSC.) Of those 10,000-plus movements, there were 8,706 movements by Panamax-class tankers (capacity of 350-400 Mbbl), 1,270 by Aframax tankers (500-725 Mbbl), and 246 by Suezmax tankers (up to 1 MMbbl) — HSC can’t currently handle Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs), each of which can haul about 2 MMbbl, or more than 200,000 deadweight tons (DWT).

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