Swollen Mississippi, Ohio rivers halt chemical barge traffic

28 April 2011 22:23  [Source: ICIS news]

Flooding on the Mississippi river in IowaHOUSTON (ICIS)-- High river levels stalled and delayed chemical shipments in the US as spring storms pummeled a wide swath of states and made many barge waterways inoperable, sources said on Thursday.

Major flooding on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers was affecting the midwest and lower eastern states, according to the US Geological Survey.  

The swollen waterways have halted barge traffic north of Paducah, Kentucky, said Steve Holcomb, a spokesman for Kirby, the largest US barge operator.

“If you’re in Pittsburgh today and [are] trying to get to the Mississippi river today, you can’t do it,” Holcomb said.

Holcomb said the lower Mississippi river has minor flooding, and likely river levels will go higher.

“New Orleans is going to get a lot of water, eventually, from all this,” Holcomb said.

Kirby president and CEO Joe Pyne said in the company’s quarterly report that high water and lock issues have closed inbound and outbound traffic on the Ohio River.

“Based on what we know today, we anticipate high water conditions throughout the Mississippi river system for the majority of the second quarter, thereby creating significant operating inefficiencies,” Pyne said. 

Barges of caustic soda sent by US Gulf coast are at a standstill in numerous cities, unable to offload because of elevated river levels, market sources said.

A US Gulf caustic soda producer confirmed inoperable areas and delays in barge shipments.

“In three or four weeks, this river system is going to be empty,” the source said.

The distributor said river swells of up to 53 feet at the Cincinnati port have prevented the offloading of six of its barges, which must offload at a maximum of 48 feet.

The distributor said caustic producers which were seeking a $60/dry short ton (dst) increase in the domestic market now will likely have more leverage to push for the price hike.

Caustic barge spot prices are assessed at $390-420/dst FOB (free on board) US Gulf (€265-286/dst), though prices were heard to be firming this week. 

Producers were citing tight supply and strong demand to justify the increases. 

The distributor is now scrambling to redirect shipments, adding that the additional freight costs and the likelihood of locating operable terminals were exacerbating the situation. 

“It’ll be a disaster out there, no doubt about it,” the source said.

In the acetone market, barges of acetone trying to reach methyl methacrylate (MMA) producers have been stalled by the high Ohio and Mississippi river levels, a market source said.

According to Bob Holmes, the USGS national flood coordinator, current conditions at the confluence of the two rivers near Cairo, Illinois, could break record flood levels that were set back in 1937.

In the US, 397 locations are currently observed at flood levels, according to the National Weather Service.

At least 10 inches of rain in the last seven days has fallen in some areas, on top of rivers already at high levels as a result of seasonal snowmelt, he said.

More rain is expected by the end of this week.

Since the affected drainage areas are so massive, the first cresting of the water levels are not expected until the end of April; for the Mississippi river, this could be mid-May, Holmes said.

“We’ve got a major flood coming downstream,” Holmes said.

($1 = €0.68)

(Additional reporting by Lane Kelley and John Dietrich)

Paul Hodges studies key influencers shaping the chemical industry in Chemicals and the Economy
For more on caustic soda visit ICIS chemical intelligence

By: Ruth Liao
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