While crude deliveries by larger ships to Beaumont in Texas remain restricted after Hurricane Harvey, a workaround using pipelines can supply Exxon Mobil's refinery there, shipping sources said.
Silt and clay lingering in the Port of Beaumont still threaten to entrap large ships, two weeks after Hurricane Harvey ravaged Texas, but pipelines are available to move crude up to refineries there from nearby terminals which are less affected by sediment.
Beaumont's port has been closed to ship traffic over 26 feet (8 meters) since Sept. 9 by the U.S. Coast Guard, because of shoaling - sediment or sand that washes up on the bottom of the waterway and hampers shipping traffic.
The Beaumont port is the furthest inland port on the Sabine Neches, a long curving waterway that empties into the Gulf of Mexico. The storm shut traffic at several ports, and while some, like Houston and Corpus Christi, have reopened to shipping traffic, they are still subject to restrictions on the depth of cargoes that can come up their respective channels.
The primary refinery in Beaumont is Exxon Mobil's facility, which can refine 362,000 barrels of crude a day. Brent Rahe, Coast Guard vessel traffic supervisor at Port Arthur, said there's a high spot that could hinder vessels near the Beaumont port and Exxon Mobil's refinery.
Ships in that waterway are restricted to a 26-foot draft, the Coast Guard said, as opposed to the 40-foot (12-meter)allowance before the storm that allowed large ships that deliver crude into the channel. It is unclear when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be able to dredge the Beaumont waterway, Rahe said.
However, ships with a 38-foot (12-meter) draft - which can accommodate crude deliveries - are able to make their way to Sunoco's terminal, which has pipelines, that can deliver crude to Exxon Beaumont, said Brian Hass, operations manager for shipping broker Host Agency in Beaumont.
Since Harvey struck, overall imports into the Gulf Coast have slumped. Imports averaged 2.5 million barrels in the week prior to Harvey, and in the two weeks since have averaged 1.47 million and 1.77 million, respectively, EIA data shows.
Exxon Beaumont's facility imported 18.6 million barrels of oil in 2016, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data. It shut after Harvey hit, but the refinery expects to be back at full capacity by month-end; the company did not answer questions about the ship channel.
(Reporting by Julia Simon in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)