Race is on to build Texas’ first offshore oil export terminal
The race is on to build Texas’ first offshore oil-exporting terminal that could accommodate the world’s largest crude-carrying vessels.
The global commodities trading firm Trafigura Group will announce Monday that it plans to build the Texas Gulf Terminals Project in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast from Corpus Christi. An offshore terminal would avoid port traffic and float in waters deep enough to handle the largest ships. Trafigura is unveiling the project almost three weeks after the Houston energy company Enterprise Products Partners said it plans to build an even larger offshore oil exporting terminal south of Galveston.
Corpus Christi and the Houston Ship Channel have led the nation in oil exports ever since Congress lifted the nation’s decades-old crude export ban at the end of 2015. The timing coincided with a boom in U.S. oil production, especially in West Texas’ Permian Basin, pushing crude volumes to record highs this summer. More of that oil is exported because domestic consumption remains relatively flat.
Just as there’s a rush to build pipelines hundreds of miles from the Permian to port and refining hubs near Houston and Corpus Christi, there’s also competition to construct oil exporting terminals to ship out the crude. The Port of Corpus Christi is expanding to handle the flood of oil, and several companies along the Houston Ship Channel are expanding terminals.
But the ports still aren’t able to handle the largest oil tankers, known as very large crude carriers, or VLCCs. Despite ongoing dredging efforts, the channels at Texas ports aren’t deep enough for the giant ships to leave the ports filled to capacity. Very large crude carriers can only fill up partially at Texas ports, and then receive the remaining oil volumes from another ship in deeper waters. It’s a more time-consuming and expensive process.
“The Texas Gulf Terminals Project will give U.S. crude oil producers, particularly Texas operators, safer, cleaner and more efficient access to very large crude carriers, ensuring that the economic and employment benefits of increasing domestic crude production can be fully realized right here at home,” said Corey Prologo, director of Texas Gulf Terminals Inc. and Trafigura.
The Swiss commodities trading firm is no stranger to U.S. oil exports. In early 2016, Trafigura chartered the ship for the first U.S. crude export shipment to Europe in more than 40 years, and Trafigura has continued as a leading exporter of crude and petroleum products from the Gulf Coast. Trafigura has offices in downtown Houston at the 5 Houston Center building.
The United States exports nearly 2 million barrels of oil daily, and Trafigura projects those volumes to grow to almost 5 million barrels a day by 2022. Overall, the United States is producing almost 11 million barrels of oil a day.
Trafigura said its project would export about 400,000 barrels of crude a day. The competing Enterprise Products offshore terminal project could be almost five times the size of the Trafigura proposal. Enterprise envisions a terminal that could load 2 million barrels of crude a day.
Enterprise plans to build pipelines to run about 80 miles from its Houston-area network to the offshore terminal where the water is naturally deeper. The project could be years in the making. Enterprise expects the state and federal permitting processes alone to take roughly a year before it can commence construction.
Trafigura said it filed its first project permit in July with the U.S. Transportation Department’s Maritime Administration, but the oil trading firm isn’t providing projected costs or a timeline just yet. The company, however, estimated that the terminal would create about 700 temporary construction jobs and 50 permanent positions.
Trafigura previously invested close to $1 billion in Buckeye Partners’ Corpus Christi processing and exporting hub in Corpus Christi. But Buckeye, a Houston pipeline company, recently bought out Trafigura’s 20 percent stake. Now, Trafigura is moving forward with its own project.
Earlier this year, Trafigura also signed a contract with another Houston company, Plains All American Pipeline, to ship up to 300,000 barrels of crude a day on Plains’ pending Cactus II oil pipeline from the Permian to Corpus Christi. The pipeline is expected to be completed in about a year from now.
The only offshore terminal operating in the Gulf is the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, called LOOP. But the 37-year-old LOOP was built for imports and only now is conducting test runs with export shipments. LOOP tentatively plans to expand and focus on exports, representing another potential competitor to the proposed Texas projects.