, Port Arthur, Texas

October 16, 2012

GT Omniport offers rail option for crude

Brooke Crum
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — In the absence of a pipeline, a train will do.

From Colorado, Wyoming, North and South Dakota and anywhere in between, crude oil lumbers into the GT OmniPort by train. There, it is transferred through hoses into an underground pipeline that carries it onto a barge, and the barge carries the crude oil to its designated refinery.

The crude oil by train process helps relieve the pressure created by trapped oil in some regions, like North Dakota and Canada, that have not been connected to pipelines that carry oil to refineries for production. The Keystone Pipeline would be an outlet for some of the trapped oil, as well. But until Keystone is built, the GT OmniPort will be bringing in oil by train.

To celebrate the official opening of business at the terminal, the Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce and the Beaumont Chamber of Commerce will hold a ribbon-cutting and grand opening ceremony for the GT OmniPort Tuesday at 10 a.m.

“We saw it as a niche that would allow us to fill a need that the refineries have until the pipelines get built,” said Timothy DeSpain, president and cofounder of GT Logistics. “What we do today is going to change over time.”

Although the Keystone Pipeline would impact the OmniPort’s operations, DeSpain said it would benefit the facility in the long run because the pipeline would bring more crude product into the region. Plus, there would likely still be production that is stranded, not connected to a pipeline or simply too crude for pipeline carriers, and the facility’s infrastructure could be converted to facilitate finished products, as well.

“We haven’t designed this as just solely a crude-by-rail site,” DeSpain said. “It’s designed to be a full-board terminal and potentially a processing site, as well.”

The $95 million facility can process about 70,000 to 100,000 barrels a day on its more than eight miles of rail lines. The 1,100-acre terminal, located on Highway 73 just a stone’s throw from major refineries, is served by Union Pacific Railroad and BNSF Railway Co. and a barge dock on Taylor’s Bayou.

But just 300 acres are for rail car storage capable of holding, switching and transloading over 1,000 rail cars. The remaining 800 acres are available for lease or sale, and the next phase of development for the facility would be construction of storage tanks that could hold more than 250,000 barrels, according to a press release.

GT Logistics, which operates the OmniPort, has been discussing the potential development of a storage terminal with Gibson Energy Inc., a Canadian energy company. The tank storage phase could be completed in early 2013 and include pipeline connections to existing pipelines, refineries and the deepwater dock so the terminal could both import and export product.

Together, the terminal and the 20-acre deepwater dock that GT Logistics also owns and operates on the Sabine-Neches Navigation District Channel form the GT OmniPort, the first multi-user facility of its kind in the Golden Triangle area.

And a state-of-the-art facility it is, said Bart Owens, vice president and general manager of GT Logistics. The entire process of transferring crude oil from trains to barges is done with a computer, which can tell to a barrel how much oil is being moved.

It looks like a modern operation, as well, in the Master Control Center, which controls every aspect of the system with its flat screen monitors that show the entire line, from train car to barge. It requires 10 people per shift to operate the system, and in the past, a similar process would have taken up to 40 people, Owens said. The facility operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Still, GT Logistics has hired 40 full-time employees in the year the OmniPort has been there. It started with two employees a year ago and could create 1,000 jobs once the facility is complete. Further development and construction could employ even more people, DeSpain said.

The company had 10 local firms assist with prior development and construction, and more development would mean more construction jobs. The OmniPort itself would hire anywhere from 30 to 40 people after the next phase of development, DeSpain said.

“It’s nice to have a major part of the project complete,” Owens said. “I’m proud of what we’ve done.”