By LINDA HARRIS
WEIRTON, W.Va. - A tanker barge loaded with a million gallons of natural gas liquids from a tank farm in the Half Moon Industrial Park is on its way to Houston - a "significant milestone" in the Weirton port's development, according to local officials.
The natural gas liquids, otherwise known as "wet gas," came from locally drilled wells in the Marcellus and Utica shale, and had been stored at a tank farm in Half Moon.
On Nov. 25, the gases were loaded onto the tanker barge and towed down the Ohio River, reaching the Mississippi River on Dec. 2. Weirton Area Port Authority Chief Operating Officer Nicole Balakos said its final destination "is further south (in) Houston."
"It shows West Virginia can be very formidable in the movement of energy along the Ohio River," West Virginia Public Port Authority Executive Director James D. "Doug" York said Thursday. "Certainly Weirton, with its proximity to Pittsburgh and Columbus, coupled with the (shale) gas exploration and harvesting (in the region) sits in an area that's going to be very important for West Virginia's energy future. The port will be able to leverage use of multi-modal forms of transportation - river, rail and surface. It's an easy point to ship goods to Columbus and a prime location, an attractive location, for businesses to set up."
Weirton is one of six designated inland port districts in West Virginia, a concept recognized by leading logistical and supply chains experts as an efficient way to move goods and commodities inter-modally throughout the U.S. West Virginia is perched midway between the mid-Atlantic seaports and the nation's largest inland port, Chicago, making development of those six inland ports in the Mountain State a high priority.
York said Weirton's port area is 40 miles long, encompassing all of Brooke and Hancock counties and the city of Weirton, he said. He pointed out the port itself is located "next to one of (its) economic drivers," the tank farm.
"That tank farm, that's pretty interesting in the fact that a private company worked to stockpile the fuel," he added.
There are currently three unloading stations supporting the terminal. A new, four-bay station, being built with local labor, is nearing completion and when done will be capable of unloading in excess of 5,000 barrels of wet gas per hour, WAPA officials said.
Down the road, they're planning a second four-bay station to increase capacity. Eventually, WAPA officials expect the port to be a fully operational multi-modal facility, moving liquids between truck, trail and barge, and offering enhanced capabilities in the area of communications, electronics and power.
York described Weirton as "a gem" and said a study done earlier in the year compared West Virginia's potential for inland port activities to states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Kentucky, identified Weirton, along with Brooke and Hancock counties, as strategically significant to those efforts.
"West Virginia is poised better than most to have the largest inland waterway port in the U.S., the Ohio River," he said, adding the study suggests Weirton "could potentially be an economic engine for West Virginia, due to its proximity to the three rivers - the Ohio, Monongahela and Allegheny rivers."
"There are major ports in the area - there's Pittsburgh, and Columbus to the west," he said. "They have the ability to do barging along the Ohio River, there are other rail facilities operated by Class I railroads out of West Virginia and Pennsylvania, and you have an interstate highway system. That's the beauty of Weirton - it's poised (to capitalize on those assets)."
York said they want the local port districts to be self-sustaining, "to be able to go out and recruit businesses for port-type operations ... so they're not depending on money from the state. We want them to be economic engines."