Refinery storage full; tanker returns to Valdez with 300,000 barrels
(Houston Chronicle; April 27) - A tanker maneuvered into the dock at the Valdez oil terminal April 11, carrying an unusual cargo for a returning ship - more than 12 million gallons of Alaska crude, at least a quarter of the cargo the ship had carried away from Valdez two weeks earlier. The Alaskan Explorer had sailed to a Washington refinery but returned to Alaska with 300,000 barrels because the onshore storage tanks were too full to accept it, confirmed Anil Mathur, CEO of the Alaska Tanker Co., which owns the ship.
BP's refinery at Cherry Point, Wash., had been shut down due to a February fire when the Alaskan Explorer arrived April 6. But that doesn't explain the ship's return to Valdez with a big load of oil. Refinery spokesman Bill Kidd acknowledged that in normal times, the ship would have offloaded the remainder of its cargo at one of three nearby refineries. Government statistics show gasoline isn't selling the way it used to, and on any given day crude could be backed up in storage tanks from Valdez to California.
"Nobody is taking much crude on the West Coast," Kidd said. So why aren't gasoline prices pushed downward by the forces of supply and demand? "You've keyed into an interesting puzzle, a paradox," said Richard Newell, professor of energy at Duke University and until last year head of the federal Energy Information Administration. "We are tied to the global market, the global price for oil," said Rayola Dougher, senior economic adviser at the American Petroleum Institute. "We cannot secede."