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Gulf Coast VLCC-loading projects move forward amid rising pressure to export US crude

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Gulf Coast VLCC-loading projects move forward amid rising pressure to export US crude

Houston — Two planned VLCC-loading projects along the Texas Gulf Coast -- one in Corpus Christi and another offshore Freeport -- are moving forward as pressure increases to export more US crude on supertankers.

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Lone Star Ports, a joint venture between The Carlyle Group and The Berry Group, was named to lead the development of the first US onshore export terminal servicing VLCCs on Harbor Island, Texas, the Port of Corpus Christi announced Friday.

The $1 billion-project is expected to complete in late 2020 and will be connected to Hilcorp Energy's Harvest pipeline as well as the EPIC pipeline. The lines will carry a total of 1 million b/d of crude from the Eagle Ford and Permian Basin.

Additionally, Lone Star Ports entered into an indicative agreement with terminalling and storage company Martin Midstream to provide services at Harbor Island.

As US crude production continues to rise, there is increasing pressure to export barrels. There are about six ongoing projects along the US Gulf Coast that will allow for the direct loading of VLCC tankers, which can hold roughly 2 million barrels of crude oil. Currently, all but one US facility -- the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port -- are unable to fully load a VLCC. Giant VLCCs are just too big to be fully loaded inside US ports as the water is too shallow. Hence, shippers rely on costly ship-to-ship transfers to load VLCCs in deeper offshore water.

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To solve the problem, some ports, such as the Lone Star Harborside project, are dredging for larger vessels. Other projects are looking to connect onshore pipelines to offshore loading buoys located in deeper water.

Earlier this week, leaders at Enbridge talked publicly for the first time about their plans for an offshore US Gulf Coast VLCC loading facility called Texas COLT. Along with partners Kinder Morgan and Oiltanking, Enbridge is developing Texas COLT, which will be located 40 miles offshore Freeport, Texas.

The facility will include loading buoys connected to a pipeline, which will allow for the full loading of a VLCC every 24 hours. The facility will be fed by the Gray Oak Pipeline, which will move some 900,000 b/d of crude from the Permian and Eagle Ford. Enbridge also announced this week that it had acquired a 23% stake in Gray Oak, which also is owned by Phillips66 and Marathon. Texas COLT also will have connections to Enbridge's Seaway pipeline out of Cushing, Oklahoma.

"It's clearly a competitive environment when it comes to developing export options, but we're confident with our position," Guy Jarvis, Enbridge's president of liquids pipelines, said. "We have the capabilities amongst our partners to construct and operate this facility, there's strong interest from a broad base of potential customers."

Jarvis added that Texas COLT has a planned in-service date as early as late 2021 or early 2022.

--Laura Huchzermeyer, laura.huchzermeyer@spglobal.com

--Edited by Pankti Mehta, pankti.mehta1@spglobal.com