Annual Review & Outlook 2013: Port Freeport, Texas

Glenn A. CarlsonThe source of energy that we may anticipate will continue to propel increasing activity at ports of Texas and beyond has been around for more than 80 million years. It is found in fossil-ferrous marine shale in sedimentary rock formations from the Late Cretaceous age.

Natural gas and oil from the Eagle Ford shale play that underlies much of South and East Texas is the driving force behind the present and predicted boom at numerous ports, and, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, shale plays and basins (though not yet being drawn upon to the extent of Eagle Ford) may be found beneath 30 other states, from California to New York.

The shale gas phenomenon has led to lower natural gas prices, not only providing a domestic source of reasonable and environmentally favorable energy, but also bringing about huge investments by the petrochemical industry — to the tune of $20 billion here in Brazoria County alone.

For ports, deeper and wider channels are needed to handle increased traffic of larger vessels, including those serving LNG facilities. Vast laydown areas are being dedicated to project cargo being brought in to support infrastructure expansion, while imports of frac sand, proppants and other commodities used in extraction of shale gas are adding to port volumes.

At a time when the U.S. economy surely needs a boost, shale gas is already supporting some 100,000 well-paying jobs, and that number is projected to more than double during the next 10 years.

While other developments off U.S. soil, such as the Panama Canal expansion, are being looked to by lots of experts as the biggest game-changers for the U.S. port industry, there is little doubt that the biggest driver for many ports and our communities will be something that lies thousands of feet beneath our ground.

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