We have all heard about the shale boom and how it may lead to lower long-term energy costs and energy independence. But what does this mean for the workboat industry?

It’s good, and also could be bad. It could hurt offshore energy E&P while tank barge operators are already seeing a pickup in crude oil demand for their equipment.

Lately, there has been discussion from officials like Harold Hamm, chairman and CEO of Continental Resources, pushing for a repeal of the ban on U.S. oil exports. Hamm, who has made a fortune as one of the largest Bakken shale producers in North Dakota, told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Jan. 30 that “experts including Raymond James, Citi and the International Energy Agency all agree we will be energy independent in terms of crude oil within a decade or two.” Hamm closed his testimony by saying, “Americans and consumers of all nations would benefit from the immediate lifting of restrictions that inhibit the export of crude oil produced in the U.S.”

That sounds all well and good for the country as a whole, but as Bill Pike wrote in the March issue of WorkBoat, this would favor onshore vs. offshore E&P. The average operator can make more developing onshore shale oil and gas versus deepwater. Thus, a pickup in U.S. E&P activity as a result of lifting the export ban would not necessarily mean an increase in offshore activity. In fact, Pike writes that it could actually have the opposite effect in the long term.

On the inland side, however, the outlook is more promising. The barge market for domestic crude oil is relatively new (it was almost nonexistent in 2010) and has been growing. Barges are a lower-cost alternative to railroads and pipelines. Crude oil now makes up more than half of all petroleum moving by barge from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast, according to River Transport News, which tracks the barge industry.

Kevin Horn writes in the March issue of WorkBoat that while forecasts for “new, dynamic markets are difficult and often short lived,” he expects to see the continued growth of domestic crude oil barge shipments. 

David Krapf has been editor of WorkBoat, the nation’s leading trade magazine for the inland and coastal waterways industry, since 1999. He is responsible for overseeing the editorial direction of the publication. Krapf has been in the publishing industry since 1987, beginning as a reporter and editor with daily and weekly newspapers in the Houston area. He also was the editor of a transportation industry daily in New Orleans before joining WorkBoat as a contributing editor in 1992. He has been covering the transportation industry since 1989, and has a degree in business administration from the State University of New York at Oswego, and also studied journalism at the University of Houston.