Last month, I wrote a blog about when the workboat industry can expect to see LNG-fueled towboats on U.S. waterways. Actually, the towboats in question would be dual fueled (diesel and LNG) vessels. I put the blog together based on a presentation by Ed Shearer of The Shearer Group and John Hatley, Wärtsilä's vice president ship power, at the Inland Marine Expo in St. Louis in June.

I said Shearer and Morgan City, La.-based Conrad Industries were waiting for the Coast Guard to sign off on a new design for a dual-fuel towboat powered by a Wärtsilä propulsion system — that was OK. I further said that the U.S. inland waterways system doesn’t have the infrastructure in place to support LNG-only towboats, and that there just aren’t many LNG “gas” stations available along the inland waterways at present — all of that was OK. Then I quoted Shearer as saying, “The small boats work [financially] right now, but the linehaul boats that run all the time don’t” because of a lack of infrastructure — that was not OK. I got it wrong.

Shearer sent me an email this week bringing this to my attention. “Small [low horsepower] towboats equipped with dual fuel engines are not economically viable due to the fact that they don't burn a lot of fuel in their operations. Line-haul (larger horsepower) towboats show pay-backs of six to 12 years depending upon the horsepower. This is due, of course, to their fuel consumption. The infrastructure for supplying fuel (LNG) to towboats will happen. We just need several parties to get together to make it happen.”

Hatley sent me an email asking me to ask readers, the following:

• Is your company interested in LNG fuel? If yes, is it near term, taking a wait-and-see position, or medium to longer term?

• For contract of affreightment moves, what is your current diesel price outlook and how do you see it changing in the future?

• For most time charters, what savings amount would entice your freight shippers to switch and go with LNG fuel over diesel that they often supply (pay for) today?

If we get enough responses, I’ll write about them in a future blog.

Ken Hocke has been the senior editor of WorkBoat since 1999. He was the associate editor of WorkBoat from 1997 to 1999. Prior to that, he was the editor of the Daily Shipping Guide, a transportation daily in New Orleans. He has written for other publications including The Times-Picayune. He graduated from Louisiana State University with an arts and sciences degree, with a concentration in English, in 1978.