HOUSTON (ICIS)--Vessel and barge traffic on the Mississippi river remains suspended because of a damaged bridge spanning the waterway, and a prolonged blockage could put additional pressure on already constrained supply chains.
Alex Lidback, vice president - Chemical Analytics at ICIS, said it might not be that big of an issue if the waterway is reopened within a couple of days, but a longer blockage could create problems.
“It is the artery of America,” Lidback said. “There are very large volumes of chemicals, refined products and agricultural related products that move up and down the river.”
It remains unclear when officials will reopen the waterway, but a market source told ICIS that officials hope to have an answer on when it will be safe top open the river to barge traffic “in the next day or so”.
The Mississippi river is a vital connector between chemical production in the US Gulf and industrial activity in the Midwest region.
Most of the polystyrene (PS) producers with resin plants in the Midwest receive styrene monomer (SM) by barge from styrene producers near the US Gulf.
Participants in the monoethylene glycol (MEG) market said barges to the Midwest are delayed by three days so far.
An acetone source said they had barges from both directions coming in, but are now making contingency plans, depending on how long the river is shut down.
The fertilizer markets continue to monitor the situation as it is causing barge shipments to be held up.
While an exact number of barges holding fertilizers is not yet clear, those volumes that had set sail are now stopped without a clear estimate when they can resume to their upriver destination.
This will not impact ammonia, phosphates or potash activity as their spring movement had been completed.
Where it is of concern is for those with nitrogen interest, as urea and urea ammonium nitrate (UAN) volumes were still in transit for the crop season, especially for secondary applications.
The blockage has not yet impacted values but has slowed barge trading with market sources saying if the time for repairs is short the impact will be minimal.
If it is an extended navigation halt, it could hit the market hard.
All river traffic was suspended on Tuesday evening between markers 736 and 737.
The crack was found during a routine inspection of the Interstate 40 Mississippi river bridge, according to the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT).
Vehicle traffic across the bridge was closed, and ARDOT is working with the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) to make sure the bridge is safe for motorists before it is reopened to any traffic. Updates will be issued as they are available.
As of 16:00 local time, there were 47 vessels and 771 barges waiting to pass the closed section, according to the US Coast Guard.
Of those, 26 vessels and 430 barges are northbound, and 21 vessels and 341 barges are southbound.
Focus story by Adam Yanelli
Additional reporting by Tarun Raizada, John Donnelly, Antoinette Smith and Mark Milam
Thumbnail image shows the crack in the Interstate 40 bridge that spans the Mississippi River. Image courtesy of Arkansas DOT