Waterways congestion conundrum

Waterway congestion was a familiar refrain at Mare Forum’s “Maritime Transportation of Energy” conference in Houston last week. Attendees saw slides showing the petroleum transport infrastructure around Gulf Coast ports, the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and the inland rivers. Varied depictions of the waterways and ports – overlaid with lists of projects stretching from the Corpus Christi area up to the Ohio River near Pittsburgh – all pointed to the same conclusion: Congestion will grow on the already crowded waterway infrastructure.

Multiple speakers from the U.S. Coast Guard talked about increased pressure on the waterways during what the agency is referring to as “America’s Energy Renaissance.”

When the subject of possible U.S. exports of crude oil was broached, the questions for the keynote panel – which included representatives from Exxon Mobil (sharing a view of energy out to 2040) Conoco Phillips (a hearty endorser of crude oil exports), and the U.S. Coast Guard 8th District – centered on whether the existing infrastructure could handle the port calls.

Another thread of discussion, beginning with a morning keynote speech by Karatzas Marine Advisors, concerned the Jones Act. Karatzas suggested that a policy move to allow U.S. crude exports might ease the pressure on the coastal tanker and barge markets, which is currently showing continued strength.

A speaker from Kirby Corp. described a continuing strong river and coastal barge market. While the move to LNG vessel propulsion was lauded by speakers, including in the offshore service vessel sector where Harvey Gulf International Marine’s first two LNG-powered OSVs have now entered service, a cautionary note was sounded about LNG. Fugitive methane emissions in the LNG supply chain (long before LNG fuel enters a vessel’s tanks) could be a source of greenhouse gasses.

About the author

Barry Parker

Barry Parker is a maritime consultant and writer. He covers shipping, energy and commodities, drawing on three decades of transactional and brokerage experience. His writing covers financing aspects of shipping and offshore, plus occasional technical or regulatory articles. His client work for ship owners, cargo interests and others includes project and market analysis, as well as commercial and operational guidance. He divides his time between midtown Manhattan and his home on Long Island Sound. He can be reached at bdp1@conconnect.com.

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