The weekend collision of an oil barge and a cargo ship in the Houston Ship Channel (HSC) is unlikely to cause an immediate impact on refineries because of excess oil inventories on the Gulf Coast, analysts said March 24.

However, a multi-day shutdown would impact imports and inventories in the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) April 2 inventory report, according to Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co.  

“Excess capacity in the HSC would allow shipments to catch up fairly rapidly once it is reopened,” the firm said.

Crude oil inventories are well above the 5-year seasonal range in Petroleum Administration for Defense District (PADD) III.

Reports differed on when the channel might reopen.

The March 22 collision has bottlenecked traffic in either direction as the U.S. Coast Guard and other authorities respond. Simmons and Co. International said, as of last count March 24, that 43 vessels are waiting to enter and 38 vessels are waiting to leave the channel.

“This level of restriction is consistent with a number of periods where fog shut down the HSC,” said Bill Herbert, managing director and co-head of securities for Simmons. “Excess capacity in the HSC would allow shipments to catch up fairly rapidly once it is reopened.”

However, the Coast Guard speculated that portions of the HSC and its offshoots to Texas City and Galveston, along with a portion of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, could be closed through March 29 or longer, depending on the cleanup efforts.

The captain of the 585-foot bulk carrier Summer Wind, a Liberian flagged ship, reported a collision with the barge, which was towed by motor vessel Miss Susan. The barge held 924,000 gallons of fuel oil. The maximum capacity of the breached tank is 168,000 gallons of marine fuel oil. The tank appears to have released oil that is slowly moving out into the Gulf of Mexico.

Responding agencies that were operating reported that more than 69,000 feet of containment boom had been deployed on waters surrounding the incident site and along sensitive shorelines in the area as of March 23. An additional 141,000 feet of boom has been staged for possible deployment.

Approximately 24 response vessels worked to skim the oil. Responders finished transferring product inside the barge’s damaged compartment to a second barge.

The damaged barge was moved to a safer location for responders until it can be removed to a local shipyard for further assessment and repair, the Coast Guard said.

Officials reported that the first recovery of oiled birds involved less than 10 impacted birds.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard