C-Port II is the latest addition to the rapidly expanding Port Fourchon on the Louisiana coast. Edison Chouest Co. built the facility as another of its one-stop logistics centers for fluids, bulk material, cement and pipe for offshore operators in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico.
Local government and industry officials are emphatic: Port Fourchon, located at the mouth of Bayou Lafourche near Galliano, La., is the main entry to the deepwater Gulf of Mexico.
"Few people recognize that this little spot is more significant to US energy supply than any other point in the country," said Ted M. Falgout, executive director of the Greater Lafourche Port Commission that governs that facility.
The pipeline connection to the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP), the only US facility capable of offloading VLCC and ULCC supertankers, comes ashore through Fourchon, he said. In addition to those imports, a substantial amount of domestic offshore oil is transported through LOOP to a pipeline infrastructure connecting with 35% of total US refining capacity. Some 25-33% of the nation's oil supply moves through that vicinity, said Falgout.
But it's the supplies and equipment going from the port to offshore rigs and platforms in the gulf that generates the most activity.
"We service 75% of all the deepwater rigs in the gulf out of this port," Falgout said. "We have 6,000 people/week going offshore by helicopter from here."
Some 200 offshore supply vessels�many of them the new generation of larger vessels built expressly for deepwater operations�churn in and out of Port Fourchon daily. That number can jump to 300 when "a bad weather day" forces supply vessels to seek safe haven, Falgout said.
Traffic is so heavy that the port commission anchored buoys on the western side of the ship channel so that vessels could tie up while they wait for an opening at the various supply facilities. Each vessel entering or leaving the port is required to report to the harbor police, who manage traffic around the clock.
To fill those supply vessels, every day hundreds of trucks haul equipment and supplies down Louisiana Highway 1, the only roadway to Port Fourchon. By the time it reaches the port, that highway is squeezed to two lanes barely higher than the alligator-infested inland waters that border it.
The port commission is working with Louisiana Department of Transportation and federal officials for a proposed $300 million elevated four-lane highway that would keep the trucks rolling despite any flooding.
Much of Port Fourchon was built on landfill and is barely above the surrounding waters.
"Most ports deal with building facilities; We have to build the land, too," said Falgout.
"This port has experienced rapid growth over the last 20 years, but nothing like we've seen since the advent of the Deepwater Royalty Relief Act of 1995," he said. "Even through the downturns in the late 1980s and early 1990s, we were in a growth mode as offshore operators were forced to rethink their shore-base operations. They couldn't afford to have bases in every port, so they invested in one or two. Several picked Fourchon."
In 1984, Port Fourchon began developing 450 acres in the first of three $30 million phases that included dredging an E-slip for vessels. Port officials thought at the time that development could satisfy demand through 2010. But the first phase of new waterfront was leased by 1998, Falgout said.
"As we began building the second leg of that development, offshore operations really picked up. That was all leased out before we could complete it," he said. "The third leg was leased out before even an inch of waterfront could be built."
Now the port commission has begun another similar expansion program and is scheduled to open bids for construction on the first 150 acres by the end of this year. "Companies have already committed to leasing every part of that first phase and are even willing to pay the first month's rent on the second phase if we'd take it," said Falgout.
A major feature at Port Fourchon are the covered C-Ports, conceived and developed by privately-held Edison ChouestCo., as one-stop logistics centers for fluids, bulk material, cement, and pipe for offshore operators in the deepwater gulf.
Edison Chouest is a top supplier of seismic vessels and supply boats for the offshore oil and gas industry, including the new generation of bigger vessels designed specifically to make long hauls with giant loads to floating rigs working many miles offshore.
"We're in the boat business, not the terminal business. But we listened to our customers' concerns about having the right vessels offshore at the right time," said Roger White, vice-president of business development at Edison Choest. "Having built these deepwater supply vessels, we had to support them by reducing their turnaround time in port."
The C-Port facilities at Fourchon utilize a new approach of concentrating a variety of supplies at the same docking facility and using high-throughput equipment to load liquids in below-deck tanks, while overhead gantry cranes load palletized equipment and supplies on deck. The big covered slips are leased to various offshore operators for their supply vessels, and supply companies invest in nearby facilities to furnish equipment and services as needed.
That ability to load a variety of cargoes simultaneously is credited for chopping in half the turnaround time for support vessels carrying those materials to offshore rigs, compared to the usual process of moving a vessel to several docks to pick up loads at each.
Officials of M-I LLC said the time required for loading bulk barite and liquid drilling fluids has been slashed to 12 hr from 24 previously. "This really is the wave of the future," said M-I President and CEO Loren Carroll at the dedication of his company's facilities at C-Port II in early November.
M-I, jointly owned 60% by Smith International Inc. and 40% by Schlumberger Ltd., made the up-front investment to become the sole supplier of drilling and reservoir drill-in fluids as well as completion fluids at the original C-Port and C-Port II. That includes a total storage capacity for 98,500 bbl of liquids and 88,000 sacks of barite at the two facilities.
Edison Chouest opened its original C-Port in January 1997, "12 to 18 months before it was completed," said White. Demand for the facility's services was so overwhelming that the company almost immediately began planning a second C-Port, he said.
Even as C-Port II was being built, Edison Chouest acquired smaller facilities for C-Ports III and IV, for vessels that don't require the fuller services of the two larger C-Ports.
Because land is at a premium in Port Fourchon, the C-Ports are scattered about the area. Marine land is being filled for construction of C-Port V, another large facility. Channels must also be cut for ships.
Like its predecessor, C-Port II is designed for rapid loading or offloading of tubulars, bulk chemicals, fuel and water. It operates around the clock, 365 days of the year.
The facility has the only complete waste management operation on the Gulf Coast, officials said, including waste reduction; fluid and water recycling; and reuse of water and waste.
Swaco, a division of M-I, operates the waste management center. Swaco, in turn, has exclusive alliances with Trinity Field Services LP, which disposes of non-hazardous drilling wastes in a Texas salt cavern; and ECI Louisiana LLC, which provides cleaning services for offshore vessels, mud tanks and rig equipment.
"It's the first time all segments for handling oil field cuttings have been brought together at one dock-side location, said Derrell Duhan, operations manager for ECI, which uses an automated "spider" jet to clean the drilling fluids tanks aboard the offshore supply vessels.
The spindly rotating sprayer drastically reduces the amount of time that workers have to spend inside the tanks, a clean-up job previously done almost entirely by hand.
"This represents a significant investment for us, but it's the right thing to do. We need to protect the environment, do things in a responsible manner, and protect our employees," Carroll said.
However, he said, "This Gulf Coast (waste management) facility probably won't be unique very long. We're already looking at another potential location."
The M-I facility at C-Port II features a 1,000/bbl mixing tank�twice as large as other similar plants�with a high-shear mixer for synthetics and another for other drilling and reservoir drill-in fluids. There are two 500/bbl mixing tanks for completion fluids and a 100/bbl pill tank that reduces customers' loading time.
C-Port II also houses a tubular inspection and repair facility, operated by the Drilco Group, part of the Smith Services unit of Smith International Inc. Officials at that tubular center claim they can clean, inspect, repair, and turn around 18,000 ft of drill pipe in 72 hours�about the time it would take to truck the pipe to the closest comparable facility.
Moving such loads by truck would cost about $11,000, officials said. They claim that dockside service can save an operator about 24% of the total cost of servicing oil field tubulars.
Moreover, the facility can accept double stands of pipe that workers can break out for inspection. Workers also can make up double stands for shipment back to the rig. Doing break-outs and make-ups on shore will save about 10 hr of rig time on average, officials estimate.
The pipe cleaning systems are closed-loop to contain waste products. The thread-cleaning systems use high-pressure hot water rather than chemicals as the cleaning agent.