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Business on brink of boom at port

June 25, 2011 at 1:25 a.m.

The Gavlion Fertilizer Terminal at the Port of Victoria has several large storage units. Cru Logistics, a frac sand transportation company, is working now to build a $4 million port terminal.

SHUTTLE SERVICEBecause of increased activity, efforts have also shifted to secure a shuttle service between the Port of Victoria and the Port of Houston. Having such a service will be a selling point to other companies that frequently use barges to move products.

Business at the Port of Victoria is picking up in ways not seen in decades.

Thanks to the Eagle Ford shale, Caterpillar's presence in Victoria and port-friendly legislation, all signs suggest activity here will only increase.

"I've likened this to what you'd go through if you put your 5-year-old to bed one night, and when you woke up he was 16," said Jennifer Stastny, the port's director. "We're running and having to run fast. It's a great time."

So far, the port has new agreements with two companies and several other promising deals are in negotiations now, Stastny said.

Houston's GulfMark Energy, a crude oil marketing and transportation company, began new shipments from the port in April.

While the company has for years transported oil via rail from the port, only recently has it done so by barge.

"With the Eagle Ford shale and other projects, we saw a great need to ship out by barge," Geoff Griffith, GulfMark's president, said by phone. "We are able to do this because of the port's proximity to the shale production."

In April, the company shipped 90,000 barrels of oil from the port; in May, that amount jumped to 150,000 barrels; this month, Griffith predicts the load to increase to 250,000 barrels.

The oil goes to East Texas by rail and Louisiana by barge. Since expanding its export options here, the company hired 15 full-time employees, mainly truck drivers, Griffith said.

"The volume of truck activity is increasing and probably will increase steadily for several years," he said.

Additionally, Cru Logistics, a frac sand transportation company, is working now to build a $4 million port terminal, Stastny said.

Frac sand is a special type of sand mined across the United States and used in hydraulic fracturing, the process employed to extract oil from the Eagle Ford shale.

Once its terminal is built, the company will receive frac sand via railcar, store the material at the port and sell it to customers. Customers will transport the sand via truck to various South Texas sites.

Rob Stefans, the company's owner, said he will hire 10 to 15 full-time employees, primarily terminal operators. He declined further comment, however, presumably because he works in a competitive industry.

In addition to these companies and others on the horizon, Caterpillar's arrival here should only bolster the port's business and lend it increased credibility. Caterpillar is also known to draw companies that offer it support, and those companies, too, might use the port.

Add to recently passed legislation - which will allow the port to quickly issue transportation permits - and fluid commerce bodes well here even for companies that move heavy cargo.

Adrian Kennedy, the Victoria Economic Development Corp's vice president of marketing, said these announcements paint a promising future for the port.

"Once you have industry there moving products in and out of the area, you really put yourself on the map and show the port is a viable option," Kennedy said. "This will help the port to generate new revenue streams and invest even further in infrastructure."

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