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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill’s Effect on Inland Waterways Operators

In the July 26, 2010 issue of the Waterways Journal, Merritt Lane, President and CEO of Canal Barge Company offered insight into the effect of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and ensuing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to inland marine operators. Below are excerpts of the article, courtesy of the Waterways Journal.

Spill Has Little Effect On Inland Firms
By Capt. Richard Eberhardt
Representatives of towing companies and ports along the inland waterways are finding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and the resulting moratorium imposed by the Interior Department on deepwater offshore drilling, has had very little effect on their business.
Major ports along the Gulf Coast report no noticeable change in the arrival of vessels. The Port of New Orleans, which is just west of the spill location, has had only two vessels arrive requiring cleaning—a ship and a tug and barge from offshore, said spokesman Chris Bonura.
The ports of Mobile and Pascagoula, which have seen nearby barrier island beaches oiled, remain open as well. To the west, the deepwater ports of Houston/Galveston, Lake Charles, Port Arthur and Freeport are unaffected, although tar balls that were found in Houston were reported to have “hitchhiked” on the bottom of an offshore barge.
As of July 20, only Pensacola and Biloxi Bay are closed during flood (incoming) tides, but opened during ebb (outgoing) tides, according to the Incident Command Center’s Trade and Carrier Support Group, Executive Summary No. 47.
No Inland Impact
“As we operate primarily in the inland waterways, the oil spill thus far has not impacted Canal Barge Company’s daily operations in any significant way,” said Merritt Lane, president and chief executive officer. “We have, however, about 60 deck barges supporting spill response operations. Canal Barge Company deck barges are working to protect Barataria Bay, Mississippi Sound, and the Mobile area from the spill.”

Several other companies have supplied hopper barges that are pulled across some of the waterways to stop the oil from reaching the fragile marshlands. Barges strung end-to-end have proven to be much better at stopping the oil than floating booms, which are largely ineffective when the wind kicks up waves of any significance.
A 40-barge barrier is stretched across the Rigolets area of eastern New Orleans protecting Lake Pontchartrain.
Several of his company’s barges have been involved in cleanup operations, Lane said, and others have moved several fabricated components to support the capping and containment operation.
“We have also adjusted our hurricane planning in response to the unusually large amount of equipment operating along the Gulf Coast in support of the cleanup,” Lane added. “As this equipment would need to move through the New Orleans area in the event of a hurricane threat to southeast Louisiana, we are planning for more of our own horsepower to help evacuate and secure our equipment….”
Long-Term Effects
But while there has been little effect on the inland waterways so far, Turn Services President Frank Morton is looking at the long-term impact. Turn Services operates towboats, full-service fleets and launch boats in service to Associated Terminals, which handles stevedoring and midstream ship loading and unloading operations of deep-draft vessels.
“There are so many things that have an impact on our business that I cannot say what kind of effect the oil spill/drilling moratorium has had so far on our business,” Morton said.
“I am sure that if the drilling moratorium remains it will have effect because of the amount of pipe used in drilling, pipe used in pipelines, the pipe coating raw materials, raw materials for drilling mud, etc.—much of this material is moved by barge,” he cautioned.
Lane agreed, saying that “looking longer-term, if the moratorium stays in place it will have a severely negative impact on the Gulf Coast region’s economy and inevitably hurt those companies that provide oilfield services or move cargoes related to those activities.”
Brenda Levinson, deputy port director at the Port of Shreveport-Bossier, said some are watching the number of barges being used in the cleanup.
“We understand that barges are being pulled into service to assist with the spill—potentially cutting down the number available for loading of goods, however, according to Hugh McConnell, Director of Operations, there has been no adverse impact for the Port of Shreveport-Bossier at this time….”

Courtesy of the Waterways Journal