Earlier on Monday, the Coast Guard had told ship operators that it
should be able to reopen the waterway later in the day, resuming at
least some supply of crude oil to more than one-tenth of the
nation's refining capacity.
"We will begin the process of a tapered ... not a floodgate
resumption of marine traffic," Captain Brian Penoyer, commander of
U.S. Coast Guard sector Houston-Galveston and captain of the Port of
Houston, told reporters on Monday.
"We anticipate re-opening the Houston Ship Channel as soon as we
can," he said.
However the Port of Houston was still shut by evening, officials
said, with the queue of waiting vessels growing to more than 90.
Penoyer explained that traffic can't move again until there's no
more oil in the water to cling to ships and be carried further.
Also, any ships that were touched must be cleaned before moving
through water deemed sufficiently clean.
The closure of the channel on Saturday has led to a queue of more
than 90 vessels trying to move into or out of the Gulf of Mexico.
Shipping delays forced Exxon Mobil Corp to cut production at the
nation's second-largest refinery.
Exxon said production at its 560,500 barrel per day Baytown, Texas,
refinery had been cut on Monday due to the closure of the Houston
Ship Channel. The company expects further production cuts by
mid-week if the channel remains shut.
INVENTORIES CONSIDERED AMPLE
Analysts on Monday were largely unconcerned, noting that ample
inventories in the region provide a cushion for refiners.
But a senior engineer at a Houston-area refinery that depends on
crude deliveries through the ship channel was concerned about the
requirement that the water be cleaned of any thick fuel oil before
ships run back and forth to ensure they don't track it further
upstream or into the Gulf.
"We're toast," the engineer said. "I would say this is a big
problem. Any delay is bad, but three days or more is really bad
because we use the channel to bring crude and products in and out."
The ship channel was shut on Saturday after a collision between a
Kirby Inland Marine oil barge and a cargo ship, spilling some 4,000
barrels, or 168,000 gallons (636,000 liters), of residual fuel oil.
The channel allows oil barges and cargo ships to sail from the Gulf
Coast to refiners and terminals further inland.
Penoyer said the thick viscosity of the oil made it recoverable by
[to top of second column]
A total of 46 ships were waiting to leave the port of Houston and 47
ships were waiting to come in, the Coast Guard said on Monday
afternoon. Penoyer said a typical day in the channel includes
movement of 60 to 80 large ships — tankers, freighters, containers
and cruise ships — and 300 to 400 tug and barge movements.
warning to mariners issued by the Coast Guard on Sunday said
portions of the Houston channel and its offshoots to Texas City and
Galveston, Texas, along with a portion of the Gulf Intracoastal
Waterway, could be closed through March 29 or longer, depending on
the requirements of a cleanup.
Five ships waited to come into the ports of Texas City and
Galveston, Texas, and 12 ships waited to leave the ports, the Coast
Kirby Inland Marine is operated by Kirby Corp.
Penoyer said Kirby "immediately" stepped forward to take
responsibility for the response costs by hiring the cleanup crews.
Cleanup crews have pumped all of the remaining fuel oil from the
barge, which has been refloated and moved to a different position
near the site of the collision in the channel.
Marathon Petroleum Corp. declined on Monday to discuss operations at
its 451,000-bpd Galveston Bay Refinery and 80,000-bpd Texas City
refinery. Royal Dutch Shell's joint-venture 327,000 bpd Deer Park
refinery was evaluating supply impacts and had contingency plans to
mitigate them, a spokeswoman said.
Fewer than 10 oil-covered birds have been recovered for cleaning,
according Texas wildlife agencies.
(Reporting by Erwin Seba in Houston, Selam Gebrekidan in New York,
Terry Wade in Orlando; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Stephen Powell,
Bernard Orr and Cynthia Osterman and Michael Perry)
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