PORT OF CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — For John LaRue, sand was the harbinger of the change. Several years ago, LaRue, the Port of Corpus Christi's executive director, began seeing the smooth quartz grains arriving in bulk from Wisconsin and Minnesota. It's used in fracking, one of the materials injected into shale-rock formations to free oil and natural gas and coax it topside.
None of that fracking is happening in this industrial port city down the Gulf Coast from Houston. Instead, Corpus Christi is the waypoint for the sand that's trucked inland to the surging Eagle Ford Shale formation.
The inland energy boom is sending more than sand through the nation's fifth-largest port. On a recent May morning, not far from from an airline-hangar-sized building filled with fracking sand, long rows of steel drilling pipe from Korea awaited shipment to Eagle Ford sites.
But what's now coming from the Eagle Ford back into and through Corpus Christi is transforming the region even more. The trickle of crude oil flowing from the port has turned to a flood: Between 2010 and 2011, the port went from exporting 274,000 barrels to more than 2 million. Last year, the number of crude barrels headed outbound to other parts of the U.S. was 122.5 million and the port has expanded its docks to handle it all.