Houston Ship Channel Reopens


Houston Ship Channel Reopens
The Houston ship channel resumed full operations this week for the first time since a fire at International Terminal Co.'s Deerpark, Texas, terminal in late March. Photo courtesy of Port of Houston Authority

The Houston ship channel reopened yesterday, returning to full operations for the first time since a fire at Intercontinental Terminal Co.s Deer Park, Texas, terminal in late March.

“This was a very serious problem for several weeks. [It] is much improved, but even now we know that there are barges loading which have been long delayed,” said Joe Rousmaniere, director of business development at Chemlube International, a base oil trader and distributor. “Since [ITC] is a major base oil storage terminal, the closure of just this one terminal alone is impactful.”

API Group II and III base oils have been hit the hardest by the closure, he added.

“We have heard of one case where there was a cargo of Group III base oil en route to Houston when the fire struck so the vessel had to be diverted to discharge into another U.S. Gulf Port. Since the vast majority of imports into the U.S. are Group III, either from the Far East or the Middle East, and much of this is delivered via Houston, this would have had an outsize impact on the Group III business,” Rousmaniere told Lube Report.

He also noted that a significant amount of the Group II base oil made in the U.S. Gulf is exported through the Houston channel, which undoubtedly had a big impact on Group II exports.

The channel was shut down March 22 after a three day chemical fire at ITC’s terminal. Foam and chemical products breached the secondary containment wall surrounding the facility’s western tank farm to enter a ditch running parallel to the channel. As a precautionary measure the United States Coast Guard shut down a section of the ship channel between a Dow facility at Tucker Bayou and the San Jacinto Monument to Crystal Bay.

On March 25 the Coast Guards Sector Waterways Management office announced it would allow for the opening of the San Jacinto River during daylight and the resumption of cargo operations. On April 12 the upper Houston ship channel was fully opened for traffic managed by Vessel Traffic Service Houston-Galveston. The terminal has 231 tanks storing base stocks as well as a variety of other chemicals, fuels and feedstocks. “Things are now getting back to normal, but it reminds us, just as it happens every time a hurricane arrives in the Houston area, just how reliant the industry is on the port of Houston,” Rousmaniere posited.