NOAA Responds to Oil Spill in Sabine-Neches Waterway near Port Arthur, Texas (NOS News, 01.28.10)
New PORTS dedication (Making Waves podcast, 5.27.10)
This ponderous barge is but one example of the massive commercial vessels that move tons of cargo through the Sabine-Neches Waterway, which runs from the cities of Port Arthur, Beaumont, and Orange, Texas, down to the Gulf of Mexico.
It’s easy to tell by its very name that NOAA’s National Ocean Service is a strong federal presence on and within the nation’s ocean, coasts, waterways, and ports. But did you know that NOS’s Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS) developed and administers a trademarked data tool called “PORTS”?
It stands for Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System, and the 20 PORTS across the nation give mariners up-to-the-minute information on tides, currents, water and air temperature, barometric pressure, and wind (speed, gusts, and direction) so that they can safely move their vessels – from the smallest recreational craft to the most massive oil tankers – through more than 50 U.S. seaports and waterways. Port authorities, local officials, and marine pilot associations also use PORTS as a decision-making tool to determine if a waterway is open and safe for navigation.
The Sabine-Neches Waterway PORTS, installed near Port Arthur, Beaumont, and Orange, Texas, in December 2009, was dedicated on May 21 in a special ceremony in conjunction with National Maritime Day (May 22) and Port Arthur’s 24th Annual Maritime Memorial Day.
Sally Yozell, Director of Policy in NOAA's Office of the Under Secretary of Oceans and Atmosphere, gave the keynote address for the PORTS dedication ceremony in front of the Mariners' Memorial Sundial at Port Arthur, Texas.
Oil and water have always mixed in coastal Texas, or at least since January 10, 1901, when the Lucas No. 1 well blew a gusher at Spindletop near Beaumont. The oil (along with gas, mud, and drilling equipment) spewed oil more than 100 feet into the air. With that dramatic flair, the state’s coastal oil industry, including refineries, pipeline and oil-field equipment manufacturers, and, of course, the petroleum-shipping industry, was born.
The Sabine-Neches Waterway, which runs from the cities of Port Arthur, Beaumont, and Orange down to the Gulf of Mexico, is a series of interlocking river channels and canals that today comprises the number-one crude tanker arrival port in the nation. It is also home to one of the nation’s newest liquid natural gas (LNG) terminals, and possesses 45 percent of the nation’s LNG import capacity. The waterway also ships 20 percent of U.S. gasoline east of the Rockies. Its principal cargoes are crude oil, petroleum products, and chemicals.
The new PORTS was dedicated during Port Arthur’s Maritime Memorial Day Program, which honored the Sabine-Neches Waterway Partners and commemorated the merchant mariners who have sacrificed their lives to bring commerce to all Americans.
Sally Yozell, Director of Policy in NOAA’s Office of the Under Secretary of Oceans and Atmosphere, provided a keynote on NOAA's navigation and science services and the President’s ocean policy goals. CO-OPS Director Richard Edwing noted in his address that PORTS provides mariners with the tools, and the confidence, to move valuable goods through this historic and economically significant waterway.
The new PORTS has, in fact, already protected ships and commerce in the Sabine-Neches, and may even have saved lives. PORTS data allowed for an early reopening of the waterway following an oil spill in January. PORTS also alerted mariners of an extremely low-tide event in March, which led to the decision to keep some vessels offshore until water levels rose, thereby preventing potential groundings.
Clayton Henderson, assistant general manager for the Sabine-Neches Navigation District, noted, “The Sabine-Neches PORTS array has given our local maritime industry a great increase in situational awareness. Knowing the currents and water levels ahead of arrival greatly increases efficiency and safety for our mariners.”