Offshore ports

Onshore vs. Offshore


The Port of Corpus Christi Authority (PCCA) is proposing to dredge the Corpus Christi Ship Channel beyond the 54 feet that the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has approved to a depth of 75 feet from several miles offshore from Port Aransas all the way to La Quinta Junction. In addition they want to build a dock for very large crude carriers (VLCC) at Harbor Island, directly across from the Port Aransas harbor. 

Since nearly 80 percent of all commercially important marine organisms (shrimp, crabs, and fish) utilize the estuary regions along the Texas Gulf Coast at some stage of their normal growth cycle, it is extremely important economically, ecologically, legally and politically that disruption of these major estuarine ecological regimes occur as seldom as possible. An oil spill at a Harbor Island VLCC port would spell the end of one of the most productive estuaries in the state, in the process killing off the local fishing industry—not to mention the tourism on which Port Aransas relies. It’s not a matter of whether a spill could occur but how soon, how much, and how bad.

While we support PCCA’s efforts to bring more revenue to the area the Port Aransas Conservancy is strongly opposed to the disaster that project would entail for the ecology of the area and the economy of Port Aransas. So we support a far less environmentally destructive alternative: an offshore oil port.

The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP)—20 miles offshore—has been in operation for 36 years and has never experienced an oil spill. In the event of a spill booms could be quickly dropped around the ship and the hoses shut down. In contrast an oil spill near an estuary would be disastrous. It’s not a risk worth taking—or one that is necessary.


"Ecologically speaking, the results from an oil spill out at sea would be much less disastrous than one closer to shore. It has been found that tidal currents at bay entrances may spread an oil spill 9 miles in 3 hours, but 20 miles offshore, the same spill travels only 1 mile in 3 hours, allowing more time for containment and cleanup ... An offshore facility would help tremendously in alleviating the congestion which a supertanker port close to shore could generate.”-- CONSIDERATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR A TEXAS SUPERTANKER PORT  (University of Texas at Austin, August 25, 1972, pg 15), 


Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP)


Offshore deepwater ports are nothing new on the Gulf Coast. In 1982 a consortium of oil and pipeline companies worked together with the state of Louisiana to build the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP). The LOOP Marine Terminal and pipeline were specially constructed to accommodate VLCCs. Standing in 110 feet of water some 20 miles from land in the Gulf of Mexico, the LOOP Marine Terminal can comfortably accommodate tankers calling at the port.

Once anchored at one of the three single point mooring (SPM) buoys, hoses are attached to a ship's manifold for offloading. Hi-tech, flexible hoses are attached to the ship's manifold to receive and transport the crude oil. It is pumped from the ship in an underground pipeline. Oil movement controllers from LOOP, in close communication with the ship, initiate the offloading of the vessel to the LOOP Marine Terminal where it is pumped into a 48-inch diameter pipeline to the LOOP storage facilities at a rate of up to 100,000 barrels per hour. The oil arrives at the LOOP storage facility in Clovelly, Louisiana, some 45 miles from the marine terminal.

LOOP is currently the only U.S. port capable of fully loading a VLCC. PCCA, understandably, wants in on the action. So does the Port of Brownsville, which recently announced its intention to build a similar offshore VLCC facility. Houston is now in the game, too. Houston and Brownsville are both planning offshore terminals, leaving only the Port of Corpus Christi to undertake a years long massive dredging effort.

Ecologically and economically a deepwater port is the way to go.


Houston: Offshore Texas Crude Oil Export Terminal

Enterprise Products Partners L.P. has announced it is planning to develop an offshore crude oil export terminal off the Texas Gulf Coast. The terminal would be capable of fully loading Very Large Crude Carriers (“VLCC”), which have capacities of approximately 2 million barrels and provide the most efficient and cost-effective solution to export crude oil to the largest international markets in Asia and Europe.

Enterprise has started front-end engineering and design (“FEED”) and preparing applications for regulatory permitting. Based on initial designs, the project could include approximately 80 miles of 42-inch diameter pipeline to an offshore terminal capable of loading and exporting crude oil at approximately 85,000 barrels per hour.


Brownsille: Jupiter Offshore Loading Terminal (JOLT)

JupiterMLP LLC has started engineering, permitting and design for a project known as the Jupiter Offshore Loading Terminal (JOLT) six miles off the coast of Brownsville where it can service VLCCs.

The company has obtained permits to build storage tanks for 2.5 million barrels of crude oil and refined products.  Jupiter has also announced plans to buiold a 670-mile crude oil pipeline to connect its assets in West Texas' Permian Basin to its Port of Brownsville facility. All of that will put Brownsville in direct competition with Corpus Christi to be the crude oil export terminal of choice for outward bound VLCCs. The race is on.


Freeport: Texas Offshore Port System (TOPS)


The Texas Offshore Port System (TOPS) was proposed in 2008 by two Houston-based midstream companies and a German pipeline firm. The proposed crude oil port would consist of a pumping platform with two single point mooring (SPM) buoys 36 miles offshore from Freeport in 115 feet of water. Each SPM would be permanently secured to six mooring lines, consisting of chain, each attached to anchor points on the seabed. Anchor points would consist of either suction or driven piles. 

Dual 42-inch outside diameter (OD), 4,000-ft long offloading pipelines would carry the crude oil to a new metering and pumping platform. A new 8 5/8-inch OD fuel gas pipeline that would be approximately 45 miles long would supply natural gas to the metering and pumping platform. A new '42-inch OD offshore pipeline approximately 34.86 miles long would transport the crude oil to a new valve station located in Freeport, Texas.

From the valve station a new 48- mile, 42-inch OD onshore pipeline would transfer the crude oil to two new crude oil storage terminals, Texas City, Texas and Hitchcock, Texas. A new intermediate onshore pump station would be located along the onshore pipeline to boost the pressure of the crude oil. The proposed crude oil port would allow for the direct unloading of Ultra Large Crude Carriers (ULCCs) and  Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs). In addition to these larger carriers, smaller vessels, including Aframax and Suezmax crude oil carriers, may also be offloaded at the port.

The plan fell apart in 2009 when two of the partners pulled out of the project, having decided it “was no longer sufficiently profitable.” That was before the deluge of new oil from the Permian Basin and Eagle Ford Shales hit the market and the U.S. government in 2015 allowed sales of American crude to overseas buyers. This is the market that PCCA has in mind and ports all along the Gulf Coast would like to service.


Corpus Christi: Corpus Offshore Port System (COPS)


The Port Aransas Conservancy's Corpus Offshore Port System (COPS) builds on the TOPS plans but adapts and simplifies them, resulting in significant cost savings. 

The platform would be located 15 miles offshore from Port Aransas, positioned between the eastern and southern Safety Fairways leading into the harbor (N 27 degrees 39.00’, W 096 degrees 51.88’). Located in 100 feet of water the system would consist of a pumping platform with two single-point mooring (SPM) buoys permanently secured to six mooring lines, consisting of chain, each attached to anchor points on the seabed. Dual 42-inch outside diameter (OD) pipelines would carry the crude oil to a metering and pumping platform—either offshore, on PCCA’s property on Harbor Island, or at Aransas Pass—and then on to a tank farm on Occidental Petroleum’s property in Ingleside. 

The dual pipelines would enable VLCCs to  very quickly load up with U.S. crude for foreign markets. Using the same pipeline TOPS estimated they could offload as much as 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil. The savings in the lightering charges that the Port is now paying would be substantial.

The TOPS plans on which COPS is based were very well worked out as were their applications. The Port Aransas Conservancy offers them to PCCA and strongly urges them to consider this alternative plan. We will certainly promote it to the permitting authorities who have to consider alternatives. COPS is a very low impact alternative to PCCA’s onshore deepwater port plan and one that deserves the most serious consideration.


Supporting files

Race is on to build Texas’ first offshore oil export terminal (pdf)


Enterprise to Develop Offshore Texas Crude Oil Export Terminal (pdf)


Enterprise Products wants offshore permitting complete by 2020 (pdf)


Midstream company has tanker-size plans for Port of Brownsville (pdf)


Considerations for a TX Supertanker Port (pdf)


1974 TOPS Permit Application (pdf)


1978 Harbor Island VLCC Port EIS (pdf)


SPM Safety and Performance Report (pdf)