Saturday, July 26, 2014

From the Ohio to the Upper Miss

I know this happens all the time, but still ...

Before turning in early for the night, I decided to look on the Upper Mississippi River just in case I found any familiar names among the boats there. I found several boats that used to stay pretty much on the Ohio or that have been frequent visitors to my part of the Ohio (Greenup and Robert C. Byrd pools, mainly).

I saw the Darrel L, the Detroit, the Ohio and the Sam M. Fleming, among others on the Upper Miss.

The Mississippi south of Cairo looked pretty busy, but I recognized maybe one or two names, and that was it.

And the part of the Ohio from Cairo to Paducah looked active tonight, although Cairo itself has been busier. Actually, it looked pretty good up to Cincinnati before things started thinning out.

Yes, with coal shipments down and bumper crops of various grains in the Midwest plus a lot of crude oil from the Bakken that has to get to refineries, companies must deploy their assets where they're needed. But still, this explains in part why the Ohio has been bare of towboats a lot of times when I've gone down to the river looking for something to shoot.

Today I saw the Pass Christian tied up to the West Virginia shore just below old Lock and Dam 27. It was underway again in a little while, and it's long gone from here now.

Friday, July 25, 2014

AEP River Operations posts net earnings (updated twice)

Most of the companies that operate towboats on the Ohio River are privately owned or else they have such a limited number of stockholders that they do not have to disclose financial information to the public. Probably the biggest exception to that is American Electric Power. Although AEP's main business is generating and selling electricity, it also operates a fleet of towboats and barges.

AEP released its second-quarter earnings report this morning. I scanned through it to see that AEP reported earnings of $3 million in its river transportation business in the quarter and $6 million in the first two quarters of the year. Those compare favorably with losses of $9 million in the second quarter of last year and $11 million in the first half.

Company executives had a conference call with investment analysts earlier today. I have not yet listened to a replay. If they said anything about river operations, I'll update this.

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While we're talking corporate finance, you might want to check out this Bloomberg.com article "Coal Company Pain Accelerates as Bankruptcy Cases Rise".


I dug a little more into the AEP earnings report to pull out information on the River Operations unit. If you do the math, AEP in the first half of this year had $5.8 million in net income on $325.3 million of revenue. That's about 1.8 percent profit (although you never hear an executive use the word "profit"; it's usually "net income" or "earnings"). The beer or cigarettes you buy at a convenience store returns about 20 to 25 percent profit to the store owner, by comparison.

To put it another way, on a 15-barge tow, about a quarter of one barge is profit. The rest goes to expenses and other costs.

Here are the numbers, for those who are interested:

AEP River Operations
(All numbers in millions)
First six months 2014 2013
Total revenues 325.3 249.6
Expenses 309.1 259.7
Maintenance and operations 286.6 239.3
Depreciation and amortization 15.3 15.3
Taxes other than income taxes 7.2 5.1
Operating income 16.2 -10.1
Income before taxes and equity earnings 8.6 -18.5
Interest income 0 0.1
Equity investments -7.6 -8.5
Income taxes 3.4 -7.1
Equity earnings 0.6 0.6
Net income 5.8 -10.8

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

News roundup

It's interesting to me that a Russian news (more or less) agency would pick up on this story by quoting the paper in Columbus, Ohio. Russia is afraid of fracking, as Europe has enough shale gas to break Russia's chokehold on gas supplies to some regions.

What I like most is the photo. Can anyone tell me where it was taken, assuming it's on the Ohio River? It doesn't look like any part of the river I'm acquainted with. From various landmarks, I assume it's Louisille, but that's just a semi-educated guess. I haven't been on the ground in Louisville in years. That's a deficiency I really, really want to correct.

Oh, here is the original story from the Columbus Dispatch.

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Way back in the 1970s, if I recall correctly, Huntington WV was considered the nation's largest inland port. Then Pittsburgh expanded its "port" boundaries, then St. Louis, then Huntington. So now Cincinnati wants in on this game. Maybe Paducah should play and end it once and for all.

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Construction of the hydroelectric power plant at the Meldahl Locks and Dam is about 80 percent complete.



Monday, July 21, 2014

Down by the river

There were a lot of mayflies in the trees down by the Ohio River this morning. A lot of them. In a few pictures I took, you could see the dark specks against the gray, foggy sky.

Here are three pictures I got between the time I dropped Adam off at his 13-hour band camp today and an appointment I had on the Marshall University campus.



In case anyone cares, this is Post Number 1,501 for the Ohio River Blog. Number 1701 is in sight.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Mussel power

If you can call someone you've known less than four years an old buddy, I will say Mike Ruben, who heads the convention and visitors bureau in Ripley, W.Va., is an old buddy. We used to work next to each other at The State Journal. We've both moved on, but we still write now and then for our former employer.

Mike recently wrote a piece about how mussels are making a comeback in the Ohio River. Check it out.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A picture from Captain Jimmy

Jimmy McCoy, who I met while he was on the Charleston for Amherst Madison, now on the Fred Way for the same company, sent me this picture this morning from Mile 365.



I replied: "Cool. Thanks. My older son, Joseph Ross, and I toured this boat during an open house in Huntington in 2008. My other son, the river freak Adam Ross, wants to get on board sometime so he can say he's been on as many of the new AEP boats as I have."

Thanks for thinking of us, Captain.

Remember, this photo is owned by Captain Jimmy.

Unwelcome neighbors

A long, long time ago, back in the late 1970s and early to mid 1980s, I covered several proposed coal tipples along the Ohio River. In communities along the Ohio River, tipples were among the most divisive business enterprises of all.

Tipples, for those not familiar, are loading docks where trucks unload coal for it to be loaded onto barges. It got to thinking of them as I read about a proposed train-to-water coal dock being proposed for the Louisiana city of Gretna. This item is the most recent I've found on it. Here is another one.

It reminded me of what's going on in the Pacific Northwest. Here in the Ohio Valley, coal is something that's in the background and has always been in the background. It's something we don't think about unless someone wants to put a lot of it next door. But in other regions, people don't want the mess and congestion coal brings.

The truck-to-barge coal docks in my part of the Ohio River are all gone now. Many have been dismantled, but the ruins of some remain as mines have played out and economics have changed the transportation system.



Friday, July 18, 2014

M/V Steven J. Mason

I've got to hand it to Adam. Despite the glare of the sun, he used his knowledge of Ingram boats to identify this one from three miles away. We were headed that direction anyway, so as I drove across the bridge, he got a few shots of the Steven J. Mason at 311 fleet.



And we wondered if someone we know who works for Ingram was aboard.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Opposition to frackwater on the Ohio River

Folks in Athens County, Ohio, which itself has only a few miles of Ohio River frontage, are trying to stop a proposed barge dock in neighboring Meigs County. GreenHunter Water wants to build a barge dock to handle liquids associated with hydraulic fracturing in the Utica and Marcellus shale regions of Ohio and, I assume, West Virginia.

The public notice for the permit application says the dock would be built at Mile 223.7.

"The proposed facility would consist of a barge dock with a center platform and two pipe pile dolphins to accommodate two tank barges (either 195 feet x 35 feet or 300 feet x 54 feet) simultaneously," the public notice says. "... The purpose of the project is to unload bulk liquids (~2.5 million bbl per year) from the tank barges via a pipeline, mounted on the side of the walkway, to above ground storage tanks."

According to the web site of The Athens News, the Athens County Fracking Action Network wants the Corps of Engineers to extend the public comment period.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Coal, rail and by extension water (updated)

Here's a piece from SNL Financial on the changing nature of the coal industry. This one focuses on how utilities and railroads are adapting to diminished reliance on long-term supply contracts. Although the article focuses on rail transport and doesn't mention waterborne shipments, the idea that some coal-burning plants will have smaller stockpiles in the future does affect power plants that rely mostly on water transport.

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Meanwhile, another SNL story says the EPA is concerned that it will get only one shot at imposing strict new emissions rules for carbon dioxide on existing coal-fired power plants:
Though the U.S. EPA has yet to finalize any of its rules to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, the agency is already expressing uncertainty about whether it will ever be allowed to tighten up the regulations in the future, an agency official said at an Environmental Law Institute workshop on July 14.

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Finally, CSX released its second-quarter earnings today. The company reported record earnings for the quarter. Buried in its performance report were a few nuggets where coal and oil are concerned.

Domestic utility shipments in terms of tonnage were up 23 percent in the second quarter over the second quarter of last year. Exports of thermal coal were down 12 percent, and exports of metallurgical coal declined 9 percent.

While total coal volume was up 3 percent, coal revenue was down 6 percent.

"Coal volume increased due to higher shipments of domestic coal attributable to marketplace gains and utilities replenishing stockpiles.  This growth was partially offset by a decrease in export coal as a result of softening global market conditions," the earnings report said.
Company executives will have their quarterly conference call with investment analysts tomorrow morning.

Norfolk Southern will release its second-quarter earnings report next week.