Scott Clapham peers down into a cavernous dry dock at the Aker Philadelphia Shipyard. He points to massive pieces of steel, some covered with a light dusting of snow. When assembled, they will form a 115,000-ton oil tanker.
It’s one of two oil tankers being constructed for SeaRiver Maritime, a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil, costing $200 million apiece. It takes roughly 1,000 workers more than a year to build, and the shipyard already has orders for four more tankers and two container ships, says Clapham, the senior vice president of Aker Philadelphia. He says orders for large vessels have shot up in the past year.
“We’ve seen, since 2013, just a steady increase in demand for the ships, both here in Philadelphia and other shipyards across the country,” Clapham says.
The energy boom in the U.S. is having a knock-on effect on the country’s shipbuilding industry. Matthew Paxton, president of the Shipbuilders Council of America, says there is a relative boom in the construction of larger vessels at major shipyards across the country, especially oil tankers. He says three years ago, the tanker market wasn’t even on the screen, but shale formations in North Dakota and Texas have changed that.
“All this oil is coming down to the Gulf Coast and we’re going to need to move that oil around the United States to refiners,” he says.
There are more than 15 oil tankers, along with hundreds of smaller tugs and barges, on order at U.S. shipyards across the country, according to the American Maritime Partnership. But it will take months, if not years, to build them.