Barge fuel tax proposed in house 

House Republicans unveiled a tax reform plan in late February that would increase the diesel fuel tax paid by tug and barge operators. The move is supported by the inland industry to fund much-needed improvements to the aging inland waterways infrastructure. A discussion draft for what Rep. David Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, hopes will become the Tax Reform Act of 2014 would increase to 26 cents the current 20-cents-per-gallon diesel fuel tax paid by the inland towing industry. The fees finance half the cost of inland infrastructure construction and major rehabilitation through the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, with the federal government paying the balance. Declining revenues and the high cost of the Olmsted Locks and Dam project in Illinois have deeply depleted the fund. The six-cent increase is in line with a request of the Waterways Council Inc. and 40 stakeholders, who argue that the money is desperately needed to modernize the nation's lock and dam system. The increase is also included in legislation H.R. 1149 now pending in the House, also known as WAVE-4, and is supported by a bill renewing the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which contains a number of policy reforms designed to help improve inland waterways infrastructure. — Pamela Glass 


Energy XXI to buy EPL Oil & Gas for $2.3 billion  

Energy XXI and EPL Oil & Gas Inc. have agreed to merge in a $2.3 billion deal. Energy XXI will acquire all of rival EPL’s outstanding shares. Energy XXI offered $39 per share, a premium of about 34 percent to EPL’s March 11 closing price. As a result of the merger of the two Houston-based companies, Energy XXI will become the largest public independent producer on the Gulf of Mexico shelf, with production of approximately 65,000 bbls. of oil equivalent (BOE) per day. “EPL’s assets and operations closely resemble our own with some of the highest margins in the industry,” Energy XXI CEO John Schiller said in a statement. “Energy XXI will be the only publicly traded pure play on the Gulf of Mexico shelf, with the highest concentration of large, mature oil fields ever owned by a single shelf operator.” Upon completion of the merger, Energy XXI is expected to have an enterprise value of approximately $6 billion.


Swiftships gets back to building commercial vessels 

Swiftships, whose history can be traced to 1969, has been back in the commercial end of the industry for about a year now. For several years, the Morgan City, La., shipyard concentrated on foreign military sales. Among the yard’s current commercial contracts are a 200' aluminum crewboat for Y&S Marine, Belle Chasse, La., two 175' fast supply boats for Lafayette, La.-based Rodi Marine and two steel-hulled 145' OSVs for SouthOil Co. in Iraq. Co-owner Calvin LeLeux, a 45-year veteran of the shipyard industry, decided to bring in Shehraze Shah and Khurram Shah as partners and let them and his son Jeffery take on the bulk of the responsibility of running the yard’s day-to-day operations. “It just got to be too much. I couldn’t be out-of-pocket,” LeLeux said. “It started to affect my health, and I knew there had to be some changes. So, I’ll still be involved, but not like I have been in the past. I told them I want to see what they can do.” LeLeux said he's traveled more than four million miles over his career. — Ken Hocke