Plans are underway to build as many as five new offshore terminals capable of directly loading VLCC tankers for export from US territorial waters in the Gulf of Mexico.
A report from the US-based tanker research arm of international brokerage Poten & Partners discussed plans for export terminals at sites spanning the Gulf from western Texas to eastern Louisiana.
Six miles offshore from Brownsville, Texas, privately-held midstream company Jupiter MLP has begun seeking permits, designing and engineering for its VLCC loading facility Jupiter Offshore Loading Terminal (JOLT).
“The plan is to have JOLT connected to 10M barrels of onshore storage through two, 24-inch diameter pipelines, capable of loading 1M barrels per day (b/d),” the equivalent of one VLCC every 48 hours, according to the Poten report.
Some 120 miles north of Brownsville, with direct pipeline connections to the Eagle Ford and Permian Basin shale formations, Corpus Christi has developed into one of the most active gateways for crude oil exports in the US Gulf.
“Many midstream companies are actively jockeying for position, demonstrated by the recent announcement that Occidental Petroleum has agreed to sell its Ingleside oil export terminal,” in Corpus Christie, Poten’s report said.
In spite of an ongoing harbour-deepening project that, once completed, will facilitate Ingleside terminal’s ambitions for VLCC exports, Poten said oil trader Trafigura has submitted plans to build an offshore crude oil terminal 15 miles outside of Corpus Christi, “with a rumored capacity of 400,000 b/d, enabling them to load one VLCC every five days using a single-point mooring buoy system.”
Further east, offshore from Houston, Texas, Enterprise Product Partners intends to develop another offshore oil export terminal with a loading rate of 85,000 barrels per hour, which is equivalent to one VLCC every day, Poten said.
Louisiana waters are the site of two additional terminal projects with growing crude oil export potential. Originally built as an import terminal, Louisiana Offshore Oil Platform (LOOP) is the only current terminal capable of loading VLCCs direction. LOOP began to export limited quantities of crude oil in early 2018, but has the potential to ‘do significantly more’, Poten said.
In a combined piping and export project, midstream company Tallgrass Energy is planning a new terminal on the Louisiana Gulf Coast called Plaquemines Liquids Terminal (PLT) and proposing to build a new 700-mile, 800,000 b/d pipeline from Cushing, Oklahoma to St. James, Louisiana, with an offshore pipeline extension for loading VLCCs.
VLCCs loading directly is likely to take business away from smaller tanker vessels, as the report pointed out.
“Even if not all these offshore terminals are built,” Poten’s report said, “VLCC export capacity from the U.S. Gulf will likely grow dramatically in the next 3-4 years, coinciding with and facilitating a rapid expansion of U.S. production.
“This will further increase the use of VLCCs in U.S. exports, but may come at the expense of Suezmaxes and in particular Aframaxes, as it will reduce the demand for reverse lightering.”