Shallower Navigational Channel Forces Chevron To Carry Lighter Loads

By Danielle Thomas - bio | email

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - Chevron officials say Gustav and Ike didn't shut down the Pascagoula refinery, but the hurricanes have caused problems for ships traveling in and of the Port.

"Mainly crude supplies but also shipments out of the refinery," said Chevron spokesperson Steve Renfro. "Crude supplies in, fuel shipments out."

Shipments in and out of Chevron sail through the Bayou Cassotte Harbor. Port of Pascagoula officials say the channel leading to the harbor normally has a 39 foot draft, but now that's a 36 foot draft.

Port Director Mark McAndrews said "With hurricanes Gustav and Hurricane Ike and their resulting storm surge and winds at sea, we have shoaling throughout the channel. We have some severe shoaling in the Horn Pass channel just south of Petit Bois Island."

The port director says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is doing the emergency dredging using six million dollars from its maintenance budget.

"They have current funding available for about two weeks. That will make the channel, with all going well, marginal," said McAndrews. "To complete the job will require additional federal funding and a much longer time period."

Chevron officials say until the work is done, crude oil ships cannot carry in full loads. That's not good news for the country right now.

"There are many refineries west of us here in Louisiana and Texas, there are 14 refineries shut down," said Renfro. "It's very important for the Pascagoula refinery to continue to supply fuel into the market place. This is about customers being able to have access to gasoline and diesel fuel."

The director of the Port of Pascagoula says he estimates it will cost the Federal Government $18 million to complete all the necessary dredging for the Bayou Cassotte and Pascagoula River Harbor.

The declining depth is not just a problem for the Port of Pascagoula. Port of Gulfport officials say they are facing similar problems.

Don Allee is director of the Port of Gulfport.  He said"We should always be in a position to offer ship owners 36 feet of water to get into our port. In Katrina we went through a dramatic drop in our depth. It went from 36 feet to 33 feet.  But these back to back weather systems that have affected us over the last 15 days now have us to a restriction of 28 feet."

Allee says Port of Gulfport is working with the Corps of Engineers to fix the problem, however it is a difficult process because there are 150 U.S. ports with various needs.