The Port of Corpus Christi in South Texas, a go-to destination for increasing natural gas and oil volumes surging from the Permian Basin, set a new tonnage record for the first nine months of the year at 79.3 million tons, officials said Tuesday.

The tonnage record surpassed the year-ago amount by 4 million tons, an increase of 5% year/year and eclipsing a previous record of 77.9 million tons set in the first nine months of 2015.

The volume growth in 2018 has been driven by an 11% gain in crude oil, 8% increase in other petroleum products and 3% increase in break bulk shipments.

“This tonnage record is one of many set by the Port of Corpus Christi in 2018, and it is indicative of the continued growth we have been experiencing in the energy sector,” said CEO Sean Strawbridge. “Our bullish outlook of success is reinforced by this achievement and we look forward to continuing our investments alongside those of our customers as Texas and the United States continues its trend as a strategic global provider of energy.”

A plethora of energy-related investments are underway in the Corpus Christi area, many designed to move oil and natural gas products to overseas destinations. For example, Cheniere Energy Inc. is building Corpus Christi Liquefaction LLC, a three-train liquefied natural gas export facility.

Among the many Permian-to-Corpus oil pipeline projects now being built are Plains All American Pipeline LP’s Cactus II, the Gray Oak Pipeline system and one by Epic Pipeline Co. LLC. Epic also is building a parallel natural gas liquids pipe.

Natural gas pipelines from the Permian destined to terminate in the Corpus area include the Pecos Trail Pipeline Co., Gulf Coast Express Pipeline Project (GCX), Permian Highway Pipeline Project and Whistler Pipeline Project. GCX now is underway.

Meanwhile, Howard Energy Partners last year inked a 30-year lease with the Corpus port for 41 acres of land along the coast as it prepares long-range plans to transport U.S. oil and gas to Mexican consumers.

And on the petrochemical front, ExxonMobil Corp. and Saudi Basic Industries Corp., i.e. SABIC, in May created a joint venture to further advance their Gulf Coast Growth Ventures project, a 1.8 million metric ton ethane cracker proposed for San Patricio County near Corpus.

The increasing tonnage, said port officials, substantiates its request for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin the Corpus Christi Ship Channel Improvement Project (CIP), which would include dredging the ship channel to expand it to 54 feet from 47 feet and widen it to 530 feet to accommodate larger vessels and allow for more efficient traffic flows.

The port has a feasibility study underway that should be completed this year regarding very large crude carriers (VLCC) without reverse lightering, which now is done on Harbor Island at the end of the Corpus Christi Ship Channel. The junction at Redfish Bay and the Gulf of Mexico also could be developed to store 20 million bbl of oil and for blending. Initial work has begun to obtain a permit to dredge to a depth of 75 feet, which would allow VLCCs to be fully loaded.

The port also is interested in developing Harbor Island, where it owns 250 acres and has a right-of-way to build pipelines. If it were to receive permitting approval, Harbor Island could become the second port after the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, i.e. LOOP, to be able to fully load VLCCs. If all goes to plan, VLCC mooring could be available by early 2021.

“The record-setting tonnage supports the critical need for continued investment in infrastructure,” said Port Commission Chairman Charles W. Zahn Jr. The CIP “absolutely will benefit the economy of the Coastal Bend, Texas and the United States.”

The port today is the leading U.S. crude oil exporter and the fourth largest in the country for total tonnage. However, there are plans on the drawing board to open it to even more overseas exports.

Commodity trader Trafigura Group Pte Ltd. in August proposed building a deepwater port near Corpus Christi to load oil supertankers, a piece of the puzzle so far missing in efforts to expand domestic exports.