America's supertanker terminal set to export oil for first time

By Javier Blas and Dan Murtaugh on 2/13/2018

LONDON and SINGAPORE (Bloomberg) -- The flood of crude leaving the U.S. could be about to get a major boost: the nation’s top imports terminal is testing one of the industry’s biggest tankers to load an export cargo for the first time.

If the trial run signals the start of regular exports from Louisiana Offshore Oil Port LLC (LOOP), it will be a step change in America’s capacity to export the burgeoning production that’s roiled global oil markets. The ability to load very large crude carriers, the industry term for giant ships able to carry 2 MMbbl, will significantly cut the cost of shipping cargoes overseas.

On its website, the terminal said it’s testing a supertanker following modifications last year to allow crude exports. Shipping data tracked by Bloomberg and cargo tracking firm Kpler show the tanker is the Saudi Arabian-owned Shaden, chartered by China’s largest oil trader last month.

LOOP has been a vital piece of U.S. energy infrastructure for more than 30 years, handling imports from across the world as well as gathering crude pumped from deepwater deposits in the Gulf of Mexico.

LOOP moored the supertanker and “initiated its detailed test and checkout procedure,” the operator said on its website, without elaborating. The company said in July that it would seek customer interest in loading services, modifying its facilities to allow the port to operate “bi-directionally” to handle exports.

While U.S. crude has already been exported using supertankers, other ports are too shallow to allow full loadings, meaning smaller ships must shuttle multiple cargoes to the giant vessels as they wait to load offshore. LOOP, because of the depth of the waters around it, would allow the industry’s largest tankers to load in one go.

Shaden is owned by the National Shipping Co. of Saudi Arabia, according to data from IHS Maritime. It left the Middle East country’s biggest export terminal on about Dec. 20, delivering its cargo to the U.S. GOM earlier this month.

The carrier was booked last month by Unipec, China’s biggest trader, charter data compiled by Bloomberg show. Unipec is a unit of China Petroleum & Chemical, or Sinopec, China’s largest oil refiner. A Sinopec spokesman declined to comment.

It’s unclear which grade of crude Shaden will load. LOOP is connected by a 48-in. pipeline to a storage hub at Clovelly, 25 mi inland, which normally feeds U.S. refineries.

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