January-October chemical shipments on US waterways rise 11%

16 November 2010 18:50  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--Chemical and petroleum shipments on US waterways from January through October rose about 11% year on year, according to an indicator released on Tuesday by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Petroleum and chemical shipments on US inland waterways have increased year over year for 10 of the past 11 months, according to a monthly indicator by the Corps's Waterborne Commerce Statistics Center in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The indicator tracks chemical and barge shipments on the Mississippi and Ohio river systems. The Corps's data does not track specific chemicals or petroleum products each month, but only as a generic group.

Top executives at Houston-based Kirby, the largest US barge operator, have touted the improving chemical business in recent conference calls.

Many chemical manufacturers on the US Gulf coast, which is the hub of the US petrochemcal industry, use Kirby barges to move their products in the US and to ports for export.

Kirby spokesman Steve Holcomb said the petrochemical business has been improving, but that the company's barge utilisation rate - in the mid-to-high 80% range - was still below the 95-100% levels reached in 2007 and early 2008.

"Back then we were at what we classified as full utilisation," Holcomb said. He added that orders this year from chemical consumers in the manufacturing sector had not reached levels of two to three years ago.

"The consumer hasn't helped us, but exports have," Holcomb said. "We touch a lot of the exports."

Inbound chemical tanker traffic on the Houston Ship Channel soared in September, with 110 arriving vessels counted by the Marine Exchange of the West Gulf, an agency that reports on vessel traffic along the Texas waterway.

But chemical tanker arrivals on the Houston channel dropped to only 54 vessels in October, the lowest total this year.

Product tankers carrying gasoline, heating oil and jet fuel have accounted for the greatest number of arriving vessels on the Houston channel in each month of this year, according to the agency's data. October's 249 product tankers marked the highest monthly total this year.

Shipments of US-made chemicals in September neared the all-time high for that sector set in July 2008, according to data from the US Census Bureau.

September cargoes of US-made chemicals totaled $60.76bn (€44.96bn), compared with just over $61bn in July of 2008.

($1 = €0.74)

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By: Lane Kelley
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