Crude On The Water: Shipping Texas Oil By Barge Surges Along Gulf Coast

The price of crude oil may be down but the quantity of black gold flowing into Houston refineries is actually going up, or at least what’s floating up the Houston Ship Channel on barges.


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Barge crossing Galevston Bay


You may have heard about crude by rail, but what about crude by barge?

“There’s quite a lot moving into Houston,” said Sandy Fielden, an oil industry analyst with Houston-based RBN Energy.

Fielden has been researching the enormous surge in crude oil moving by barge from the Port of Corpus Christi to refineries further up the Gulf Coast.

“In 2012, there was virtually no oil moving by barge out of Corpus,” but now, Fielden said some 700,000 barrels of crude a day is floating by barge up the Gulf Coast.

That’s about two dozen barges a day full of crude.

Why the surge? Not enough pipelines, so barges, like trains, offer an alternative to bring crude from oil fields in south Texas to refineries in Houston, Port Arthur and Louisiana.

“Once you get it on the water, it’s much easier to move around to different locations,” Fielden told News 88.7.

The barge industry says moving crude by boat is the safest way there is. But there have been barge collisions in the Houston Ship Channel, though the last major spill was years ago when two barges carrying heavy crude collided with a ship in 1990.

The U.S. Coast Guard says it’s well aware of the shift to crude-by-barge but Steve Nerheim at the Coast Guard’s Vessel Traffic Service in Houston said it’s not a huge spike, considering that a total of some 600 barges a day move through the Houston Ship Channel and a 10 mile stretch of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, where it crosses the mouth of Galveston Bay.  

Nonetheless, Bob Stokes, president of the Galveston Bay Foundation, said he is concerned about safety and potential risks to the delicate bay ecology given the fast and dramatic increase in crude by barge.


Related articles:

Texas Still Learning When It Comes to Oil Spill Response

NTSB: Coast Guard Could Have Done More to Prevent Galveston Oil Spill

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