NEW YORK, Aug 21 (Reuters) - A major new oil storage hub near Houston is well over a year away from reaching its full 6 million barrel capacity, according to new research based on satellite imagery that suggests the project may be behind schedule.
The first three oil tanks at Enterprise Crude Houston Oil (ECHO) terminal, which will hold a total of 750,000 barrels, were completed last month, intelligence group Genscape and satellite company DigitalGlobe said in the first edition of a new monthly report focused on infrastructure developments in and around the Eagle Ford oil patch in Texas.
But operator Enterprise Products Partners has yet to begin construction of another two tanks holding 400,000 barrels, they said. Genscape estimated it would take 300 days to finish those tanks, pushing completion to next May at the earliest.
Enterprise had said in February that the ECHO facility would begin service in the second quarter of 2012, but has offered no timeline as to when it would reach its initially planned capacity of 4.5 million barrels. It boosted its growth plans to 6 million barrels earlier this year.
A spokesman for Enterprise said the company had confirmed on Aug. 1 that the first three tanks would go into service in the following month, but has not provided any other guidance.
The project is of particular interest to oil traders because the CME Group Inc has said it would consider launching a new Gulf Coast crude futures contract late last year after its West Texas Intermediate contract -- the benchmark for U.S. crude -- drew criticism for reflecting market conditions surrounding the landlocked Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery point.
The monthly Energy Infrastructure Development Report is based on high-resolution satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe and expert analysis by Genscape's energy team to provide progress updates and timeline forecasts on major projects.
Both companies have some background in aerial analytics. Genscape has for years used helicopters or airplanes to fly over key pipeline projects and oil storage facilities to gather data on supplies ahead of market-moving government reports.
Several years ago DigitalGlobe, which also supplies imagery to U.S. intelligence agencies, began producing data on Cushing, Oklahoma, oil stocks using satellite images.