A lack of ports capable of handling the largest oil tankers is hampering the economics of U.S. crude exports as global demand increases.

Most ports along the U.S. Gulf Coast lack sufficient water depth to allow Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) to enter. That places an export ceiling of about 2 million barrels per day (MMbbl/d) and makes shipping crude to marginal markets like Asia less efficient.

To work around depth restrictions, onshore U.S. ports on the Gulf Coast that actively trade petroleum often have to rely on partial loads or lightering, also known as ship-to-ship transfers. The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP), offshore in the southern part of the state in the Gulf of Mexico, is the only facility in the U.S. able to accommodate a fully loaded VLCC.