Most of the world watched in horror as images filtered
through the news screens of the damage wreaked by Hurricane
Harvey and Irma in September.
As well as the tragic loss of life and the insurmountable
damage to civilian homes and
buildings, IM also discovered that
many ports and railways had been shut in affected areas,
disrupting the supply chain in many minerals markets.
In the days following Hurricane Harvey, heavy rains and
flooding spread across the region surrounding Houston,
disrupting mineral shipments in one of the world’s
most important port regions.
The Port of Houston, the largest international port in the
US, reopened on 1 September, but other ports in the region
remained closed as IM went to press,
alongside other infrastructure damage.
"The hurricane in the US has closed Port Arthur," one soda
ash supplier told IM. "At the moment
there’s no product coming out of the US."
"It’s not just a port it’s also the
rail [network]," he noted. "The product comes down from
Wyoming to Port Arthur by rail and that was the first thing
to be impacted as it wasn’t safe. Then they
closed the port."
But the supplier suggested the closures would be "a
"Generally speaking, there will be inventories in the system
which people will live off," he said.
Union Pacific this week announced the suspension of some
services in the affected area, including "embargoes for all
rail traffic destined to Gulf Coast locations and others within
the Houston Service Unit".
BNSF has also suspended services to and from Houston. "With
additional flooding likely during the next few days, normal
train flows in the area may not resume for an extended
period," BNSF said on its Facebook page on 28 August.
Some were concerned that the disruption to rail services
would prevent the shipment of barytes into the Texas oilfields,
suppressing one bright spot of demand in a muted market.
Although most Texan oil and gas activity is based within the
Permian basin, well beyond the reach of the hurricane, oil rigs
in the Gulf of Mexico were abandoned before the storm.
"The oil wells are shut. If the oil wells are damaged, they
will need to be repaired before drilling; this could impact
barytes demand," noted one Chinese producer, which exports
large volumes to the US.
"The oilfield industry has been coming out of winter, but now
this is like adding frost to snow," the producer said.
The area of the Gulf of Mexico is also a preferential route
for imports of alumina trihydrate (ATH) into the US –
the majority of which originates from Latin America.
Brazil, one of the main producers of ATH, has been steadily
increasing its shipments to North America since early last
year, when domestic US supply was sharply reduced by the
closure of two major alumina refineries - Alcoa
Inc.’s Point Comfort plant and Sherwin Alumina
Co.’s plant, both in Texas.
Between January and April this year, Brazilian ATH
deliveries to the US increased by almost 150% year-on-year
Shipments of Brazilian ATH reach the US through Gulf ports,
and are then distributed via barge or road transport to
consuming facilities in the southern and western states.
IM received no confirmation of whether importing schedules
were disrupted by the hurricane, although a number of sources
reported closures of port facilities in the area.
The port of Savannah in the US state of Georgia, closed for
four days in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irma after
the local government declared a state of emergency.
Operations resumed at 6am on 13 September following a
"After the hurricane passes, we are committed to assessing
any damage and getting our ports back up and running as quickly
as possible," said port director Griff Lynch at the
The port of Savannah is the main export route for many
industrial minerals produced in Georgia, including kaolin,
feldspar and iron oxide.
Despite the delay, a number of local producers were
confident that the port will very quickly overcome the looming
congestion and operations should normalise soon.
Kaolin producer KaMin LLC
told IM on 12 September that the
company does not anticipate delivery delays in bulk shipments
of paper-coating grade kaolin to its customers.
However, KaMin closely monitored the situation on container
shipments with carriers, as some congestion delays were
expected when the port reopens.
Another kaolin producer told IM they expect
a "three or four day delay" but anticipated the port "will
catch up very quickly".
Active Minerals International, supplier of high-quality gel
grade attapulgite and air-floated kaolin resumed domestic and
export shipments through the port of Savannah on 13 September
2017, the same day the company restarted production.
Mosaic shuts phosphate mine
And in Florida, North American fertiliser producer the
Mosaic Co. shut down its Florida operations, including its port
and rail facilities, in preparation for hurricane Irma.
"The Mosaic company plans to idle its Central Florida
phosphate mines and partially idle its concentrate
facilities, to facilitate efficient resumption of fertiliser
production following the storm," the company said at the
Mosaic’s supply chain partners in central
Florida have also taken similar actions, resulting in more port
and rail closures, which will interrupt the supply of raw
materials, according to the company.
"We are executing our hurricane preparedness plan and taking
extensive precautionary measures to protect our employees and
assets. We are also mindful of our customers’
concerns, and we encourage customers to stay in contact with
their Mosaic sales representatives as the situation
progresses," said CEO Joc O’Rourke.
Mosaic is one of the largest fertiliser producers globally,
serving the international market.