The U.S. coal export boom in the late 1970s led to speculative investments in coal export terminals along the East Coast and the Lower Mississippi River.
A similar phenomenon is now underway along the Gulf Coast and Lower Mississippi for energy related exports.
In the past decade, when domestic gas prices hit a record high, several LNG import terminals were proposed. Ultimately, few were built and even fewer were successfully utilized. The recent U.S. natural gas exploration and production boom has made LNG imports commercially impractical. Existing LNG import terminals will require huge amounts of capital to reverse the process for gas related exports. New greenfield LNG export terminals and locations might be less constraining and more practical than making expensive retrofits to existing idle import terminals.
Several possible natural gas related marine export terminals are now at the conceptual planning level. By any standard, the investment and related build-outs for these energy related port facilities are always very large. The facilities will require investments in the billions of dollars as opposed to the millions that are typical for bulk cargoes.
Ports and connecting waterways basically have one thing to offer — location. Thus these energy terminals might arise anywhere that has the right combination of shore- and land-side access along with site space for processing and storage.
I expect to see several proposed energy sector gas export developments. Many will be at a local port with “location,” offering access to deep water and energy infrastructure — pipelines with rail and water. For “ports” that have these assets — even ports in name only — it can mean billions of dollars in investments and local economic spillover effects.
With the advent of energy sector port developments, I can just see the billboard now: “Coming soon to a new port near you.”
The barge sector is sure to benefit, but the real news is the mega port site developments where there is currently nothing that indicates the possible boom to come.