FocusChemical traffic on US waterways rises on cheap natural gas

16 December 2010 21:14  [Source: ICIS news]

US ship travel increasesBy Lane Kelley

HOUSTON (ICIS)--Increased chemical and petroleum barge traffic on US inland waterways in November stems directly from low natural gas prices, a spokesman for the nation's largest barge operator said on Thursday.

Because most petrochemicals use natural gas as a feedstock, low natural gas prices have given the industry and chemical shipping on the US Gulf coast a boost, said Steve Holcomb, spokesman for Houston-based Kirby.

"US petrochemical plants continue to run at high utilisation rates, and the industry is based down here and we still touch it," Holcomb said.

US natural gas was priced at $4.22/MMBtu, well below the fuel's high for the year at $6.48/MMBtu and 33% higher than the yearly low of $3.17/MMBtu.

Chemical and petroleum shipments on US waterways from January through November rose 10% year on year, according to an indicator released by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Petroleum and chemical shipments on US inland waterways have increased year over year for 11 of the past 12 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.

Inbound tanker traffic on the Houston Ship Channel - including chemical vessels, plus product and oil tankers - also increased 10% through November.

A total of 4,076 vessels arrived on the Texas waterway compared with 3,714 in the same period of 2009, according to data compiled by the Marine Exchange of the West Gulf, an agency that reports on vessel traffic along the ship channel.

Chemical tanker arrivals on the ship channel in November declined 26% from the same month last year, however, with 66 ships inbound compared with 89 in November 2009.

But arrivals at the three largest petrochemical terminals on the Houston channel showed a double-digit percentage gain in November, according to Marine Exchange data.

Vessel arrivals at the ITC, Vopak and Kinder Morgan terminals through November totalled 1,348 ships, up 10% compared with 1,226 vessels during the first 11 months of 2009.

($1 = €0.76)

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By: Lane Kelley
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