Gulf Coast Ports Surrounding the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
By Matthew Chambers
This fact sheet provides a snapshot of two major seaports (New Orleans, LA, and Mobile, AL) and summary tables of other Gulf coast seaports close to the Deepwater Horizon mobile offshore drilling unit (MODU) explosion and oil spill. New Orleans is approximately 132 miles from the site, and Mobile is approximately 136 miles from the site.
The oil spill resulting from the April 20, 2010, explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon MODU may affect the operation of the marine transportation system (MTS) in the Gulf of Mexico.1 In addition to the environmental impact, close attention is now being paid to the region's MTS due to the spill's potential effect on ports and terminals and dry-bulk vessel, containership, tanker, and cruise line operations. Figure 1 shows the MTS surrounding the Deepwater Horizon MODU site.
Efforts are underway to protect the interconnecting ports and channels, inland waterways, locks and canals, and marine terminals (e.g., the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, a.k.a. LOOP) that comprise the MTS, which supports domestic freight and passenger transportation as well as international freight. The MTS is essential for the movement of tank barges and tankers to and from the Gulf Coast refineries, which represent about half of total U.S. refining capacity.2 Furthermore, the Transportation sector consumes over two-thirds of the U.S. annual demand for refined petroleum products.3
The approach channels leading to several Gulf seaports (i.e., Biloxi, Gulfport, Mobile, and Pascagoula) are close to the potential path of the oil spill.4 Figure 2 shows the spill site is close to the approaches for the Southwest Passage to the lower Mississippi River. These waterways serve the Port of South Louisiana5 that was the largest U.S. seaport in terms of tonnage in 2008,6 as well as the Port of New Orleans and surrounding ports.
The oil spill has the potential to contaminate vessels, which may delay cargo handling and slow vessel traffic. The Gulf Coast ports have continued operations as of May 26, 2010.7 For risk mitigation, authorities have undertaken many precautions to protect the environment and sustain maritime commerce. Figure 2 shows the vessel-cleaning stations8 that authorities have established throughout the Gulf Coast region (e.g., Boothville, LA, and Venice, LA).9 In addition, the authorities have established mobile and offshore vessel-cleaning stations at anchorages (e.g., near Mobile, AL).10
Port of New Orleans
The Port of New Orleans, LA, was the sixth largest port in the United States in terms of tonnage handled in 2008.11 Tankers carrying mostly petrochemicals account for about 40 percent of the vessel calls. Dry-bulk vessels carrying coal, coke, grain, etc. account for another 40 percent of vessel calls (table 1).
New Orleans is a popular port for cruises. The Port of New Orleans operates the Julia Street and Erato Street cruise terminals.12 These terminals support year-round operations.
Port of Mobile
The Port of Mobile, AL, was the ninth largest port in the United States in terms of shipping weight in 2008.13 Dry bulk vessels, carrying mostly bituminous coal and coke, account for nearly half of the vessel calls (table 2).
Alabama State Port Authority operates the Mobile Alabama Cruise Terminal,14 which recently commenced year-round operations.
Other Gulf Coast Ports
3 U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Review, tables 5.13a - 5.13d, available at http://www.eia.doe.gov/ as of July 2008 as reported in U.S. Department of Transportation, Research and Innovative Technology Administration, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, National Transportation Statistics, table 4-3, available at http://www.bts.gov/publications/national_transportation_statistics/ as of July 2008.
5 According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer's U.S. Waterway System —Transportation Facts, these include ports and terminals in St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, and St. James Parishes.
7 Port of New Orleans. Oil Update No.9, available at http://www.portno.com/ as of May 2010. U.S. Coast Guard. Sector New Orleans: Port Status Information. Available at http://homeport.uscg.mil/ as of June 2010.
About This Fact Sheet
Matthew Chambers, a Senior Transportation Specialist, in the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) prepared this fact sheet. Dominic Menegus, a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Analyst, provided special assistance creating the maps. BTS is a component of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA).
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