Coal Traffic Down, Petroleum Up on Ohio River

The State Journal
16 April 2015
By Jim Ross

Coal traffic was down on the Ohio River in the first quarter of this year compared with last year, but shipments on the Kanawha River were up.

And while coal shipments were down on the Ohio, movements of petroleum and petroleum products was up from 20 to 45 percent on various parts of the river.

The Willow Island Locks and Dam was the only one on the West Virginia part of the Ohio to show an increase in total tonnage in the quarter, and even that was less than a 1 percent increase. The Racine Locks and Dam, located between Point Pleasant and Ravenswood, handled the most tonnage, although its overall numbers were down in the quarter.

The locks at Racine were shut down this past weekend when a coal tow broke apart in high water. At least one barge went between two piers in the dam and sank in the middle of the channel in the first bend below the dam. Traffic was halted a couple of days until the tow could be reassembled, and river traffic was restricted while the sunken barge was raised.

In West Virginia, declines in coal shipments were steepest on the Ohio at both ends of the state, from the New Cumberland Locks and Dam in the north to the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam between Point Pleasant and Huntington to the south.

West Virginia was not unique in the decline of coal shipments on the Ohio. Coal numbers were down at all 20 locks and dams on the river, from Pittsburgh to Cairo, Illinois.

Shipments of petroleum and petroleum products, however, increased on the entire length of the Ohio, with the greatest increases coming in West Virginia's part of the river. Monthly tonnage figures posted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for its locks and dams do not differentiate between shipments of crude oil and refined petroleum products.

Marathon Petroleum, which has a refinery at Catlettsburg, Kentucky, near Huntington, has built a terminal at Wellsville, Ohio, near Weirton, to ship crude oil from the Utica Shale to Catlettsburg and its other refineries. Marathon would not comment on how much crude it is moving by water and whether shipments of refined products were up in the quarter.

“We typically don't provide comment on our crude oil and/or refined product movements,” Jamil T. Kheiry, communications manager, for Marathon Petroleum, said.

On the Kanawha River, a surge in coal shipments led to an overall increase in total tonnage in the first quarter. Traffic through the Marmet Locks and Dam showed particularly strong growth.

The Morgantown Locks and Dam on the Monongahela River handles little traffic when compared with locks on the Ohio and Kanawha. The Hildebrand and Opekiska locks on the Monongahela above Morgantown are closed to navigation because of a long-term decline in traffic.