Last year, several industry officials predicted that 2013 would be a record year for inland tank barge deliveries. They were right.
“Last year the number of deliveries was 261, and we’re above that now,” Sandor Toth, publisher, River Transport News (RTN), said in early November. “It’s going to go above 300.”
Tank barge deliveries in 2012 increased about 60 percent over 2011, and that trend continued this year. A big factor driving the increase is the abundance of natural gas, a raw material for petrochemicals, available through hydraulic fracturing.
What’s different about this year is the increase in the number of 30,000-bbl. tank barges. In 2012, 149 30,000-bbl. tank barges were delivered. In contrast, there were 184 delivered during 2013’s first nine months, according to RTN.
In 2012, shipyards delivered 261 tank barges to the inland waterways industry, compared to 165 in 2011. Trinity Marine Products led the way in tank barge construction in 2012, with 112 units.
Trinity has been even more productive this year after converting its Caruthersville, Mo., hopper barge yard so it could build more 10,000-bbl. tank barges, according to Toth.
Ironically, the number of tank barges of that size has decreased slightly from last year.
Overall, however, tank barge construction is running at a record pace, and operators are putting the barges to work as soon as they take delivery.
“We’re in a very sharp upward demand curve,” said Brent Dibner, president, Dibner Maritime Associates, Chestnut Hill, Mass. “All this building makes sense because we’re in a period of time when the industry has a greater need for equipment.”
Dibner said crude oil is being moved all over the U.S. and beyond to take advantage of refining facilities. “These millions of barrels of oil are going to have to be spread out like icing on a cake,” he said. “You can’t have too much of a buildup anywhere.”
For now, there is no end in sight for the continued movement of crude oil and chemicals on the inland waterways.
“Where all this ends up is anyone’s guess,” said Dibner. “Will we end up with oversupply when it’s over? No one can say right now. Am I saying it looks like for now they’re building to accommodate demand? Yes.” — Ken Hocke