Houston Sea Fog Seen Shutting Traffic Until Cold Front Feb. 20

Fog may keep tankers from passing Galveston and through the Houston Ship Channel for the next two days, affecting imports of crude and exports of products on a main traffic lane for Texas Gulf Coast refineries.

Shutdowns of the two waterways yesterday caused backups of about 100 vessels waiting to pass early today, according to dispatchers for pilots organizations, including 20 or so by Galveston and 79 in Houston. There has been minimal impact on operations at Exxon Mobil Corp.’s Baytown refinery, Connie Tilton, a spokeswoman for the plant, said by e-mail today.

Houston-area refiners are less dependent on tankers to provide crude because new pipelines are increasing Gulf Coast inventories, Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates LLC in Houston, said by phone today.

“It might have a bigger effect on product exports because all those tankers get backed up,” Lipow said.

Cold water near the shore combined with a warm front to cause sea fog, Brian Haines, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in Dickinson, Texas, said by phone today. Forecasts show a cold front on Feb. 20 may clear the fog.

The Houston Pilots plan to meet tomorrow to set priorities for which vessels will be cleared first when the fog lifts, Captain Clint Winegar said by phone today. The pilots will meet with the Vessel Traffic Service and industry representatives.

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