A recent article by RBN Energy analysts details the vibrant market for barges that load crude oil at the Port of Corpus Christi, Texas for destinations in the Gulf of Mexico and to refineries along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) system.
According to RBN, such traffic averaged 700,000 bpd in May as “a veritable armada of barges and tankers has converged on South Texas.” RBN added that the overall crude oil output from the Eagle Ford region of Texas has grown to nearly 1.7 million bpd as of May 2015.
The growth in waterborne movements contrasts sharply with downbound barge shipments on the Mississippi River system, which have fallen off from a late 2013 peak as new southbound pipeline capacity has come online.
An ongoing trend identified by RBN is the shift away from the smaller barges and articulated tug-barges (ATB) traffic as tankers pick up the slack; the authors cite Port of Corpus Christi statistics showing 479 barge loadings in May, 2015 down from 666 in June 2014. The trend is confirmed by a different data source, ClipperData, who look at barrels shipped domestically from early 2014 to mid-2015.
What might the future bring? According to RBN, docks are being built to handle deeper ships with an eye on condensate exports, and perhaps crude oil exports. Along with larger vessels (which explain the declining number of barge shipments), pipelines are also looming in the background, with RBN predicting that “shippers will migrate to pipelines when capacity becomes available.”
Kirby Corp, a listed company, and a major player in river and coastwise barging, was the subject of a recent report by analysts at Cowen & Company. In their analysis, they highlight the divergence between an uncertain inland tank barge market, and a still resilient coastwise market where “Gulf Coast refineries continue to run at maximum capacity.”