Tens of billions of dollars of investments along the Texas Gulf Coast on the part of private and public sectors are helping position ports of the Lone Star State to benefit for decades to come.
Much of the activity is related to oil, gas and petrochemical industries but extends to include other cargos as well, from containerized consumer goods to vehicles to wind energy components.
Infrastructure projects moving forward at Texas ports include those to bring deeper channels, extended wharves, new cranes and enhanced rail yards.
Here is a report on the latest developments at leading Texas ports, beginning just west of the Louisiana state line, then moving down the Gulf Coast to immediately north of the U.S.-Mexico border:
Port of Port Arthur
A two-phase expansion of dock facilities is getting under way at the Port of Port Arthur, thanks to $90 million in general obligation bond financing approved last year by navigation district voters. Permitting and design work has been completed for the first phase, to add 600 linear feet of wharf, with a 1,000-foot second stage to follow. Infrastructure enhancements also are to include erection of an additional 235,000-square-foot warehouse plus more rail tracks, on the heels of last summer’s completion of an additional 5,100 feet of trackage. The Port of Port Arthur directly connects with the Kansas City Southern Railway and is served by the Union Pacific Railroad via a reciprocal switch agreement, enabling service through the United States west of the Mississippi River, as well as Mexico.
With a current cargo mix of forest products, iron and steel, dry bulk cargo, project and military cargos, and bagged and bailed goods, the Port of Port Arthur is pursuing location of a liquid bulk facility on its property fronting the Sabine-Neches Waterway.
Port of Beaumont
The Port of Beaumont, while continuing to be the world’s No. 1 port for U.S. military cargos and having this month been site of naming of Liberty Global Logistics’ U.S.-flag M/V Liberty Passion, is assertively expanding marine, rail and roadway infrastructure for handling diverse commodities including bagged goods, forest products, steel, wind energy components, project cargo for area refineries, bulk grains, aggregate and crude oil.
On the east bank of the Neches River ship channel, across from its longstanding Jefferson County facilities, the Port of Beaumont, in partnership with private industry, is developing the $500 million-plus Jefferson Energy Orange County Terminal on 250 acres of port property. Design of the intermodal terminal for liquid bulk petroleum products features rail infrastructure capable of handling 120-car unit trains for three Class I railroads, as well as storage tanks, a pipeline, barge and ship docks, a blending facility and a truck terminal.Further infrastructure projects in both Jefferson and Orange counties are slated to advance under the Port of Beaumont’s 10-year master facilities plan.
The No. 1 U.S. foreign tonnage port, now being marketed as simply Port Houston, is enhancing infrastructure to handle growth in containerized cargo trade. Three new super-post-Panamax ship-to-shore cranes are scheduled to be delivered in July to the port’s Barbours Cut container terminal, while another three new cranes for its Bayport facility are scheduled to arrive early next year. Port Houston already handles nearly 70 percent of all containerized cargo moving through the U.S. Gulf, according to port officials. The first container terminal on the U.S. Gulf Coast, Barbours Cut, to celebrate its 40-year anniversary this summer, is undergoing extensive modernization, and Bayport, which turned 10 years old in February, is being built out in phases based on market demand. Work on Bayport’s Container Yard 6 was completed in 2016, and construction of Wharf 2 at the terminal recently began.
Dredging to 45 feet of channels in front of both container terminals has been essentially completed, while work on the Bayport flare project is under way by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, with completion expected later this year.
Port of Texas City
The liquid-bulk-focused Port of Texas City, ranked 15th in total tonnage among U.S. ports, has welcomed Karol Chapman, a 27-year Union Pacific Railroad veteran, as president and executive director, following the retirement at the end of 2016 of Bill Mathis, who had been at the port since 1996. Houston-based midstream company Genesis Energy L.P. has recently completed construction on Port of Texas City property of four crude tanks, each capable of holding 185,000 barrels. The Genesis Energy facility, which receives crude via pipelines from the Gulf of Mexico, serves refineries in Texas City and elsewhere along the Texas Gulf Coast. Also, the Port of Texas City and Marathon Galveston Bay Refinery have finished a project at Crude Docks 40/41 to enable handling of oceangoing barges and tankers for outbound refined products such as distillates.
The port’s waterborne tonnage and line-haul railcar move figures remained steady last year compared with 2015, while ethanol unit train activity of the Texas City Terminal Railway Co. rose by 14 percent.
Port of Galveston
Emblematic of its diversification strategy, the Port of Galveston is expanding its presence in the handling of wind energy units and the importation and processing of vehicles. Multiple manufacturers of wind power components are relying on the Port of Galveston to get their oversized units to project sites in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and Oklahoma, with 24 ships carrying such cargo calling at Galveston over a six-month period. A $1.5 million specialized rail track system, constructed via a public-private partnership, is enabling efficient on-port building of unit trains for carrying the components via the BNSF Railway and Union Pacific.
Meanwhile, a vehicle processing and distribution center of Wallenius Wilhelmsen unit WWL Vehicle Services America Inc. is keeping busy in its second year at the Port of Galveston. BMW and Mini vehicles for a five-state region arrive at the port from Germany, United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil via car-carrying vessels of WWL, “K” Line and Mitsui O.S.K. Lines. And port officials are actively pursuing further growth in the vehicle sector.
Port Freeport, 60 miles south of Houston, is looking to become the deepest U.S. port along the Gulf of Mexico following approval by U.S. Congress of plans to bring its channel depth to 55 feet from the present 45 feet. The harbor channel improvement project is slated to get under way in 2019 and take four years to complete. The port’s Velasco Container Terminal, which already features an 800-foot-long berth, two post-Panamax gantries and 26 concrete-paved acres, is targeted to add another 1,600 linear feet of berthing plus more paved backland by 2020. Port Freeport also is advancing a 180-acre rail-served multimodal industrial park, with sights on commencing its operation in 2018.
With $25 billion of projects being constructed in Brazoria County by oil, gas and petrochemical interests, with most of that activity along the port’s harbor channel, Port Freeport is positioned to further benefit from industrial growth, while a recent heavylift corridor extension is now enabling containerized shipment of plastic pellets from the Chevron Phillips Chemical Co.’s Old Ocean plant.
Calhoun Port Authority
In Point Comfort, about 90 miles down the coast from Freeport, the Calhoun Port Authority – previously known as Port of Port Lavaca-Point Comfort – is gearing up to submit for a permit for development of three new deepwater multiuser liquid product berths and four additional barge berths, in hopes of seeking initial bids in early 2018.
NGL Crude Terminals LLC, formerly Pelorus Point Comfort LLC, is putting finishing touches on its $30 million facility for handling of crude oil, condensate and other natural gas liquids by truck, barge and ship across a trio of port-owned docks. The undertaking includes a truck receiving terminal, two 185,000-barrel-capacity tanks and barge and ship loading and transferring infrastructure.
NST Point Comfort Holdings LLC, which now moves crude oil and condensate by barge, anticipates bringing its second storage tank online in the third quarter of 2017, with pipeline refurbishment work under way as well, while Arrowhead Offshore Pipeline LLC looks in a similar timeframe to complete a 200,000-barrel-capacity storage tank and related pipeline and loading facilities.
Port Corpus Christi
Located about 150 miles north of Mexico and benefiting from Eagle Ford and other South Texas oilfields, Port Corpus Christi is advancing its vision as The Energy Port of the Americas, having initiated crude oil exports following lifting of a federal ban. Key developments include congressional approval of deepening and widening of the port’s ship channel, a $380 million endeavor to bring depths to 54 feet from 47 feet. Also, the half-century-old, 138-foot-clearance Harbor Bridge over the entrance to Port Corpus Christi’s Inner Harbor is being replaced by a new span with a 205-foot air draft; ground was broken last summer on the $930 million project, with completion set for 2021.
A second phase of the Nueces River Rail Yard is moving toward mid-2017 completion, to provide a total of eight unit train sidings, each between 8,000 feet and 9,800 feet in length, furthering intermodal connectivity for the port, which is at the center of $40 billion in global investments from sectors including liquefied natural gas, steel pipe, petrochemical resins and hot-briqueted iron.
Port of Brownsville
Situated just to the north of the U.S.-Mexico border, the Port of Brownsville has gained congressional authorization for its channel-deepening project, to take its 17-mile channel to 52 feet from 42 feet, with port officials saying they don’t plan to wait for federal funding to get under way. Three major natural gas liquefaction and export projects, representing total investment of as much as $30 billion and combining to cover some 2,300 acres at the Port of Brownsville, are in application stages. The separate projects are being advanced by NextDecade’s Rio Grande LNG, Texas LNG LLC and Annova LNG.
In addition, the Port of Brownsville is enjoying record movements of wind energy cargos, handling components for erection of 163 completed operating units in 2016; is upgrading liquid cargo dock facilities with new construction and rehabilitation; has reactivated its unit-train-served grain elevator; and is expanding and modernizing port administrative offices. The port has ample room for expansion, boasting about 40,000 acres of land, the most of any U.S. public port authority.