Ocean-going supertankers deliver much of the oil imported for use in the United States, but their massive size creates special challenges. Most U.S. ports are too crowded and too shallow to accommodate supertankers, which can require water depths up to 85 feet deep. The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, or LOOP for short, is an innovative solution to the problem.
The LOOP is located in the middle of a 36-square-mile safety zone in 115 feet of water 18 miles off the cost of Louisiana. It can safely host the world’s largest supertankers and up to three supertankers can unload their cargo of oil at the same time.
The LOOP facility consists of:
- A mooring system which allows tankers to anchor and unload their oil. Flexible hoses at the mooring carry the crude from the tanker into an underwater pipeline. The mooring buoy and hoses can rotate through 360 degrees to allow the tanker to maintain a stable heading into the wind and waves.
- A marine terminal located 8,000 feet from the mooring sites which monitors the unloading process and directs traffic via a sophisticated computer control and communication room. The terminal also houses living quarters, offices and safety response equipment.
- An underwater pipeline which carries the off-loaded oil the 18 miles to shore.
- A salt dome storage facility like those used by the government to house the National Petroleum Reserve. The salt dome is natural geologic feature located deep underground. Large man-made caverns in the salt dome hold the oil. This storage facility stores oil before it is shipped to refineries. It can store 40 million barrels of oil.
The facility has a sterling safety and environmental record and to date has unloaded more than 3.5 billion barrels of oil from more than 3,000 tankers.
To see an animation of how LOOP works, go to Adventures in Energy.
Updated: December 10, 2008