LOGISTICS: Operations unaffected at WR Grace’s Curtis Bay site near collapsed Baltimore bridge

Adam Yanelli


HOUSTON (ICIS)–US-based catalyst producer WR Grace said operations at its Curtis Bay Manufacturing site, located to the northwest of the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, have been unaffected despite its proximity to the accident site.

A company spokesperson told ICIS that the company’s global supply chain and logistics teams are working to ensure the smooth flow of raw materials and finished products to and from the plant.

A map of the Port of Baltimore shows a WR Grace terminal, which is actually a manufacturing site for the company where they produce fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) catalysts, hydroprocessing catalysts, polyolefin catalysts and silicas, according to the company’s website.

Chemicals make up only about 4% of total tonnage that moves through the port, according to data from the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

The ACC said less than 1% of all chemicals involved in waterborne commerce, both domestic and trade volumes, pass through Baltimore.

The value of chems that pass through the port is significant, the ACC said, totaling $954 million in 2023, which averages about $3 million/day or $18 million/week.

The Captain of the Port (COPT) has established a temporary alternate channel near the debris for commercially essential vessels, according to the Key Bridge Response Unified Command (UC).

The temporary channel is on the northeast side of the main ship channel in the vicinity of the bridge and is part of a phased approach to opening the main federal channel, the UC said.

Passage through the temporary channel is at the discretion of COPT.

The UC is working to establish a second temporary alternate channel on the southwest side of the main channel that will allow for deeper draft vessels with an anticipated draft restriction of 15 to 16 feet.

Two crane barges, a 650-ton crane and a 330-ton crane, are actively working on scene, the UC said, and wreckage will continue to be lifted and transferred to a barge as daylight allows.

The largest impact from the disaster will be coal exports.

According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), about 28% of all US coal exports in 2023 left via the Port of Baltimore and as shown in the following chart.

Steam coal, coal that is used mostly for electric power generation and industrial heating, is the dominant type of coal exported from the Port of Baltimore, the EIA said.

Those shipments averaged around 12 million short tons from 2019 to 2022 before surging to 19 million short tons in 2023.

Exports of metallurgical coal from Baltimore, or that used as a raw material in steel production, also are important, ranging from 6 million short tons to 10 million short tons from 2019 to 2023.

Other nearby ports, most notably Hampton Roads, have additional capacity to export coal, although factors including coal quality, pricing and scheduling will affect how easily companies can switch to exporting from another port, the EIA said.

There are limited amounts of refined petroleum products imported into the port, the EIA said.

Biodiesel, specifically biodiesel feedstock and other edible oils, are the largest refined petroleum product import with an average of 3,000 barrels/day in 2023, mostly from Central America and western Europe.

Other petroleum-derived products, such as fertilizers and other chemicals, are also imported, the EIA said.

Baltimore imports the most asphalt of any US port at about 4,000 barrels/day last year, with almost all imports originating from Canada.

Asphalt is made from crude oil and is commonly used for roadways and roofing. Since the port is a major transit point for freight and bulk vessels, the EIA expects bunker fuel consumption to decrease.

Baltimore imports the most urea ammonium nitrate (UAN) on the US Atlantic Coast, about 2,000 barrels/day in 2023, and the fourth most of all US ports.

UAN is a common liquid fertilizer, mostly imported from Russia. The Port of Baltimore is the closest coastal port to Midwestern markets, which are a major source of agricultural demand.

Other ports on the US Atlantic Coast can also import asphalt, such as Providence, Rhode Island; New York, New York; and Wilmington, North Carolina.

Other ports on the Atlantic Coast that can import UAN are Norfolk, Virginia, and Wilmington, North Carolina.

Other, more widely used petroleum products are less affected, the EIA said.

According to ship tracking data, there was one shipment of gasoline into the Port of Baltimore in 2023, and there were three petroleum-related export cargos in all of 2023.

Focus story by Adam Yanelli


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