Sep 13, 2009
Since 1896 Crowley Maritime Corp., then known as Black Navigation, has been moving fuel and freight in Arctic Alaska during the short window between break-up and freeze-up. Each year they race against the clock to deliver millions of gallons of fuel across Bush Alaska.
This year there was a delay in re-opening Tesoro’s Black Nikiski refinery on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula after an annual maintenance break so Crowley contracted to import a third of its fuel supply, 24 million gallons, from a South Korean refinery. Chartered tankers hauled 570,000 barrels, roughly equal to three quarters of the daily throughput of the trans Alaska pipline, to the “Drill, Baby, Drill” state.
And if anyone wonders why fuel prices are higher in the Bush, Crowley VP Craig Tonga explains why in today’s Alaska Dispatch:
The tankers held steady in the deep waters off the Seward Peninsula as Crowley barges lightered cargo for transport into the shallow ports along the Alaska coastline. As many as three barges are needed to offload the fuel under optimum conditions – but as Crowley is well aware, that’s not a scenario to be counted on offshore Alaska. A storm could hit and pound the waters for seven days straight, trapping the fuel ship at a cost of $50,000 or more a day while barges linger at port. And such costs weigh into the final prices rural Alaskans pay for their fuel, Tornga says.
Crowley also buys fuel from Flint Hills Resources’ North Pole refinery but getting Alaskan fuel to Alaskans is also challenging.
Fuel from Flint Hills’ refinery in North Pole begins its journey to the Bush on rail tankers, ending up at the shores of Cook Inlet, where it’s loaded on barges. From barges the fuel is transferred to offshore vessels, and then to terminals. In Kotzebue, for example, fuel may be shifted to a river barge destined for communities up the Koyuk River, and then possibly trucked before it ends up in village fuel tanks.
Western and northern Alaska beyond Dutch Harbor lack ports deep enough to accommodate the draw of a loaded oil vessel. So the tankers sit well back from the shores and a fleet of smaller vessels lighters fuel off the tankers, shooting out to communities with deliveries. In some places, beaches have no docks. Barges are stuck waiting for the tide to change. In others, docks lack headers for offloading fuel, and crews have to reel out up to 1,000 feet of 4-inch hose to move the product to storage tanks. To serve a few communities, Crowley’s ships carry ramps, a crane and a truck; the truck is offloaded to the beach, where it’s filled to 5,000 gallons before making a drop down the road.
Stricter EPA regulations will drive the price up further in coming years but for now the focus is on getting the fuel to the villages in time this year.
In the Interior, nights are already dropping below freezing, and the Kuskokwim River at McGrath — about five feet shallower than normal at this time of year — has started to freeze.
“I hate to say it won’t happen, but it doesn’t look good at the moment for getting our last deliveries up to our terminal in McGrath,” Tornga said. “Finishing the season is very contingent on how soon it’s going to freeze up, and (if we are) going to have enough water in those rivers to make the deliveries.”
Is anyone else wondering why Alaska is so eager to pump its natural gas to us down here in the lower forty-eight when it could be put to much better use in its own backyard?