Port of Lake Charles officials presented the second of three reports analyzing the current and future increase in Calcasieu Ship Channel vessel traffic at a Harbor Safety Committee meeting held earlier today.
Traffic in the channel is expected to grow significantly over the next ten years due to the expanded operations of existing terminals and the construction of various proposed facilities. Vessel traffic is forecasted to increase by over 50 percent in the next five years and to double by 2023.
The port’s leadership commissioned the study, which used a detailed simulation model, to assess the need for changes to the channel’s operation. The third report will identify the most productive changes and allow the Port and other channel users to make changes to the channel infrastructure in order to minimize future delays.
“The Calcasieu Ship Channel is vitally important not only to the Port of Lake Charles and surrounding industries that daily depend on access to it, but also to the entire country,” said Bill Rase, executive director for the port. “This waterway handles nearly 55 million tons of cargo annually and is absolutely critical to supplying the nation’s energy needs. Keeping the channel operating smoothly for trade is the port’s top priority.”
The port is currently the thirteenth largest port in the country based on tonnage handled. Tonnage through the new facilities planned for the channel will place the Port of Lake Charles in the top ten ports in the nation.
The simulation model predicts annual traffic in the channel to increase from 1,000 vessels in 2013 to over 2,000 vessels in 2020. Vessels were grouped in five categories: Large LNG, Small LNG, Deep Draft, Wide and Narrow. The majority of increased traffic was LNG carriers to the proposed terminals.
Other conclusions reached by the traffic study related to seasonal impacts, pilots needed and tug requirements. The study determined wait times were highly seasonal, which was attributed to wind and visibility delays. The channel will require additional pilots to handle the forecasted traffic. Currently, the Channel’s operations employ 17 pilots. However, the study determined the current number of channel tugs is likely sufficient for the channel, assuming the LNG terminals provide their own dedicated tugs.
New capital investments totaling over $65 billion have been announced for the Southwest Louisiana region within the past two years, making the area the “biggest story in economic development in America today,” according to Site Selection Magazine.
Rase asserted, “Most of these projects are a direct result of the Calcasieu Ship Channel, as well as an efficient pipeline infrastructure, which will deliver economical natural gas for refining into finished product for export and domestic use. These projects, along with 20,000 construction jobs and 14,000 permanent, direct and indirect jobs, are dependent upon the ship channel’s efficient operation, as well as consistent funding for dredging.”
One future ship channel user, Magnolia LNG Vice President of Development Ernie Megginson, stated, “The Calcasieu Ship Channel connects Lake Charles to the rest of the world through the Gulf of Mexico. Magnolia LNG selected the site in Southwest Louisiana to build its 8 million ton per annum liquefied natural gas export facility because of the unique combination of location, infrastructure and transportation capabilities offered through the channel. This waterway is very important to our $3.5 billion project, and Magnolia appreciates the port leadership’s proactive approach.”
Phase Two of the traffic study concluded that while the channel was capable of handling all of the additional traffic, vessels will typically experience higher wait times. Wait times were evaluated by vessel categories, and the wait time was highest for the most-restricted vessel categories—Large LNG carriers and Deep Draft vessels.
“We plan to explore changes to channel operations and infrastructure that will allow the increased number of vessels to move more freely and reduce wait times for all vessels. Changes in traffic restrictions, new anchorages and passing lanes are possible considerations at this time,” said Channing Hayden, director of navigation for the port “We’re all working with one goal in mind, and that is to make the channel the safest and most efficient it possibly can be.”
The Port of Lake Charles encompasses 203 square miles in Calcasieu Parish. The port is governed by a seven-member board of commissioners and operates marine terminals, properties zoned for industrial use and two industrial parks. For more information, visit www.portlc.com or call 337 493-3513.