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In Texas, America's crude oil faucet gets an upgrade

The port of Corpus Christi in Texas is pulling out all the stops to capitalize on America's soaring energy export ambitions: giant new oil pipelines, terminal expansions and dredging -- but at risk of environmental damage.

Exports through the port, which ships out more crude than virtually any other in the United States, could surpass 2.7 million barrels per day (bpd) once the work is done, up from the current 700,000 barrels.

"The United States is experiencing an energy renaissance not seen in nearly 70 years," said Sean Strawbridge, the port's chief executive.

"That volume has to find an outlet somewhere. If we don't do it someone else will do it."

Energy is by far the port's biggest business. Far from the stereotypical images of stacked modular containers and gantry cranes, Corpus Christi is dominated by fat pipes, belching refineries and giant liquid tanks towering over passageways inside what is the fourth-largest US port by volume.

Three more pipelines will soon appear in this landscape, which makes up in profitability for what it lacks in beauty.

Named Epic, Cactus and Gray Oak will be operational by the end of this year, adding a transport capacity of 2 million bpd.

The three massive conduits will link the port to two main US shale oil deposits: Eagle Ford and the Permian Basin, which straddles the New Mexico-Texas border.

With hefty investments from supermajors Exxon Mobil and Chevron, the Permian produces 4.1 million barrels a day, and that could rise to 4.5 million in five years, according to the US Energy Information Administration, putting it among the most productive oil fields in the world.

The three pipelines will help solve the basin's congestion problems, which have forced producers to resort to far costlier crude shipments by road and rail.

A sprawling dredging operation is underway across Corpus Christi Bay to deepen the sea bed to 54 feet (16 meters) from the current 45 feet.

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