Buy a dredge to cut down on maintenance costs.
Convert a fleet of short-haul trucks to use compressed natural gas or liquefied natural gas.
Create a vehicle to fund the creation of a gate or other surge protection device to prevent disaster in the Port of Houston area.
Houston Port Chairman Janiece Longoria served up an entrée of ideas at a petrochemical conference in Pasadena on Tuesday, saying that even in prosperous times — Houston overtook New York as the nation’s top export market in 2012 — the region faces challenges that call for industry and government collaboration.
Last year, Port of Houston exports hit $110 billion, up by $6 billion from 2011.
“It’s no surprise that 2012 and 2013 have been record years,” she said, adding that the petrochemical industry is investing $35 billion in port-area infrastructure over the next three years. “Just like gas or diesel powers an engine, the petrochemical industry powers the Port of Houston.”
But even an industry on fire has its drawbacks – air pollution, for one.
Longoria said she’s interested in finding a company that would build the infrastructure to support a fleet that used compressed natural gas or liquefied natural gas, a move she said would create a “solid” market for domestically produced energy and fight pollution at the same time.
But so far, the search hasn’t been easy.
“It’s a chicken and egg problem,” she said. “There are companies willing to put in the infrastructure once we have the demand, but until we have the demand, we can’t get the infrastructure.”
So Longoria is trying to get everyone on the same page and find funding from the state, the federal government or private industry . Once one fleet of trucks converts, she said she’s confident “it will be like dominoes. No one wants to get left behind.” That initiative could also apply to tugs and barges in the Port area, she said.
The cost of dredge maintenance has been another growing sticking point for the Port, and Longoria said there has to be a cheaper, more efficient way to do it. One of the biggest costs associated with dredging and using private industry is the mobilization of a dredge from one region to another, she said.
“That mobilization is in the range of $500,000, right off the bat without even starting the dredge,” she said. “Would it make sense for the Port of Houston to purchase its own dredge and to potentially contract it out? Would it make sense for the Port of Houston to consider joint venturing with private industry to purchase a dredge and contract out to third party operator?”
She’s open to ideas, she said.
Third, Longoria said, the threat of hurricanes or other environmental disasters always looms large for the Port of Houston. She said she is looking into what it would take for private industry and the Port to join forces and create a vehicle that would to create a gate or other surge protection device to protect against disaster.
“It might not happen tomorrow, but it’s likely to happen in the next 100 years,” she said. “So I say, let’s be proactive. Let’s insure against this problem while we can.”