Icy rivers cause logistics headaches for central US

Author: Antoinette Smith


HOUSTON (ICIS)--Bitterly cold temperatures are causing logistical issues, as rivers connecting chemical production in the US Gulf with the Midwest region of the country begin to freeze.

American Commercial Barge Line has suspended movements into the Illinois river, according to the company's website, "due to the extreme arctic temperatures forecasted along the stretch of the entire Illinois waterway for the next 10-14 days".

Customers "should expect delays for any barges enroute to this Illinois river", the company said.

Ice on key waterways is always a worry this time of year, said one chemical producer.

Temperatures are well below normal and expected to drop even further over the weekend, according to the National Weather Service.

For example, in the upper Midwest on Sunday 14 February, the Chicago area of Illinois is forecasted to see a high temperature of 4 F (-16 C), below the record of 8 F set in 1943.

The normal high temperature for the day is 35 F ( 1.7 C).

The current system also extends further into the US than is typical.

In its data for current river conditions, the US Geological Survey (USGS) describes numerous stations on smaller tributaries as far south as south-central Missouri as being affected by ice.

Ice issues are restricting movement of fertilizer along the main US waterways, especially on the Illinois river.

Fertilizers are often shipped via barge both from the US Gulf as well as between Midwest destinations.

The most heavily trafficked route for fertilizers is the Mississippi river from New Orleans, Louisiana, to St Louis, Missouri, where cargoes are unloaded and delivered via rail or truck to their final destination.

Orthoxylene (OX) also travels by barge from refineries in the US Gulf to downstream phthalic anhydride (PA) plants near Chicago.

PA producers prepared for ice on the Illinois river, by ensuring feedstock OX tanks are full.

Producers also can get feedstock from Canada via rail if needed.

Previous maintenance on the Illinois river prevented feedstock OX from reaching PA plants, but producers had stocked up on the feedstock for more than a year ahead of the river shutdown.

The maintenance shutdown led to increased logistics costs in Q3, however.

US Gulf styrenics producers are monitoring for ice on the river and are switching some shipments to truck and rail, to reach downstream polystyrene (PS) plants in the Midwest and northeast US.

US ethanol players also are watching for potential logistical delays as a result of the freezing rivers.

Production is centred in the Midwest and ethanol is delivered throughout much of the US.

Additional reporting by Mark Milam, Alex Snodgrass and Zachary Moore

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