Connecting the Gulf from Port Fourchon

Last edited: 15 July 2015

First developed in the 1960s to bring in bananas from South America, Port Fourchon is today a thriving hub for the Gulf of Mexico’s offshore industry. BP Magazine reports from Louisiana's southernmost port

Located on the Louisiana coast, the port at Fourchon has long been a lifeline and support system for the Gulf of Mexico’s (GoM) offshore energy industry. However, it had a very modest beginning. “When it first started back in 1960, the plan was for it to be a new port for bringing in bananas from South America,” says Chett Chiasson, executive director of the Greater Lafourche Port Commission. “That didn’t happen because the banana trade went to Mississippi. But we found something a little more lucrative and that has been the oil and gas industry.”

Now, five decades later, the only bananas that come through the port complex are the ones heading out to sea, along with tonnes of food, tools, fuel, chemicals and the countless other items that supply the people and machines working offshore.

The activities of hundreds of oceangoing vessels have created thousands of jobs and had a huge effect on the region’s economy. BP’s business operations have been an essential element of that multimillion dollar financial boost.

The docks, warehouses and repair yards at Port Fourchon, southwest of New Orleans, are the major base for BP and other energy and service companies working in the GoM, with BP GoM’s logistics team responsible for loading the ships. But it is not a one-way operation; many of the tools and liquids, as well as waste material, are brought back to shore through Port Fourchon.
"When it first started back in 1960, the plan was for it to be a new port for bringing in bananas from South America. That didn’t happen because the banana trade went to Mississippi. But we found something a little more lucrative and that has been the oil and gas industry."
- Chett Chiasson

Sorting the supplies

“It is like a gigantic post office terminal,” says Lee Wilson, GoM supply base operations supervisor. “All kinds of stuff comes in from all over, we sort it and then send it out where it needs to go – and then we take care of it when some of it comes back.”

Wilson says the requests that start the supply chain in motion begin on the offshore facilities, where specialists keep track of what is needed and order the items. The orders, which consist of everything from bacon to drilling mud, go directly to vendors spread throughout the region and are then shipped by truck directly to the BP facility.

Trucks of all sizes constantly cross the seven-mile bridge linking the mainland to Port Fourchon, which consists of coastal marshes interspersed with solid ground that sits just a few feet above the high tide mark. When the items that have been ordered arrive at the BP building, staff must first make sure everything is safely packaged and prepared for shipment.

Loading the decks

The purpose-built vessels that supply BP’s offshore facilities are docked and loaded inside a 300-metre long building, featuring nine berthing slips, four of which are operated by BP. The slips are large enough so that the supply ships can back into the building, stern first, just like a truck pulling into a loading dock.

Operators use overhead cranes to carefully pluck cargo containers, drill pipe and other items from the floor, and then place them expertly onto the deck of the ship. Liquids destined for the rigs are pumped directly into below-deck storage tanks on the ships.

While much effort is expended making sure that all outgoing cargo is properly packaged, handled and loaded, just as much work goes into safely returning things from offshore, according to Ronny Ferguson, GoM supply base operations supervisor.

“Around 65% of the equipment and tools we send out comes back here,” he says. Waste products from operational activities, such as cuttings and chemicals, are stored, treated and transported under strict regulations. Other items, such as plastic bottles and cardboard, are recycled, while household waste is taken to a nearby landfill. 
The number of jobs in Louisiana that are directly related to Port Fourchon
The amount generated in taxes for the state treasury in 2013 
The average annual wage for port-related jobs, 28% higher than state average

Serving the Gulf

General manager of C-Port complex, James Guidry, says the port is centrally located in the Gulf to serve offshore rigs and offers dock facilities that others do not. He says at a conventional dock, a ship usually ties up parallel to the shore and loads cargo either to starboard or port. “In 1,000 feet, you can get in three, maybe squeeze in four vessels,” he says. “But here, in the same 1,000 feet you can bring in nine vessels in the same amount of space because they dock with the stern in.”

And, at C-Port, the ships can refuel and take on any type of supplies because everything is available at the slips. “All those services – the mud, the cement – instead of being spread out all over the port, are now all available in that slip,” he says.

The port was created when the offshore industry hardly existed, but over the course of decades, its location southwest of New Orleans proved an ideal spot for serving the GoM. “Things slowly built up in the 1970s,” Chiasson says. “But in the 1980s, during the oil bust, there was not much going on.”

As the offshore activity began to pick up again, numerous energy companies began looking for a spot that could support all their business activities. Then, in 1995, a law was passed opening up the deepwater GoM for exploration and production, providing a major boost. “Really, in the past 20 years, we have more than doubled the size of the port, becoming the premier oil and gas service base for the US”, he adds.
Sandwiches made with deliveries of 22,650 loaves of bread a year
The average number of vessels docking at the port every day 
Tonnes of groceries pass through the port every year 

In the spotlight…

BP in Louisiana

  • The Bayou State is the staging ground for BP’s Gulf of Mexico operations
  • Aviation logistics heliport in Houma choreographs flights to offshore facilities
  • BP Lubricants USA’s Port Allen plant near Baton Rouge is a regional manufacturing and distribution center for Castrol-branded products
  • More than 8,500 local jobs supported
  • 650+ employees
  • BP has donated $6.5 million to Louisiana schools and colleges over the past four years

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