PORT ISABEL — Welders on Monday planned to begin work at a new $40 million plant that local officials say marks the Rio Grande Valley’s entry in the offshore old industry.
“It’s a new era here for us,” Bob Cornelison, director of the Port Isabel-San Benito Navigation District, said on a tour of the new plant.
Subsea 7, an international underwater engineering construction company, is expected to attract other companies in the offshore oil industry to the Valley, Cornelison said.
“It’s a diversification,” Cornelison said of the company’s impact on the Valley’s economy.
The company will assemble pipelines that it will haul to offshore oilrigs, Cornelison said.
“What it’s all about is laying pipeline in very deep water,” Cornelison said. “This technology came out of the North Sea.”
The company has hired about 90 workers, Cornelison said.
“The majority of the workforce is in place,” he said.
The company hired high skilled welders to fill some jobs, he said, and was training some local workers at the plant.
“There’s a core of welders who were brought in to train locals,” he said.
The company plans a massive operation on the 58-acre site off the port’s ship channel, Cornelison said.
The company’s first project calls on welders to meld 38 miles of pipe that its ship will carry to an offshore oilrig in the Gulf of Mexico, Cornelison said.
Monday, 11,200 tons of pipe was stacked outside a long, narrow plant near a new 485-foot dock off the port’s ship channel, Cornelison said.
Welders will meld 40-foot stalks of pipe into 4,300-foot pipelines that the company will stack on a rack that is nearly a mile long, he said. Then the 4,300-foot stalks will be welded into a 38-mile long pipeline that the company will coil onto the Seven Oceans, a 18,000-ton ship that will haul the pipe to an oilrig off the Louisiana coast, Cornelison said.
“They’ll lay this along the seabed to bring oil and gas to the refineries,” Cornelison said.
A group of Houston investors, the Port Isabel Logistal Offshore Terminal, attracted Subsea 7 to the site about two years ago, Cornelison said.
Now PILOT is building two 840,000-gallon tanks to hold diesel fuel for the company’s ships, Cornelison said.
Oil companies including Hess, Shell and Statoil Hydro are considering plans to launch offshore oil drilling operations from the port, Cornelison said.
Like Subsea 7, the companies need highly skilled workers to launch drilling, construction and production operations, Cornelison said.
The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College plans to design a program to train students for work in the offshore oil industry, said Jim Holt, the university’s associate vice president for economic development and dean for workforce training.