The Houston Ship Channel and the Gulf Coast region are increasingly exporting almost every type of product derived from shale natural gas and oil, energy executives said Wednesday.
Speaking at the two-day Gulf Coast Industry Forum — previously called the Petrochemical Maritime Outlook Conference — in Pasadena, top executives highlighted how the Port of Houston is the only major port in the U.S. to export more than it imports.
The region is shipping out crude oil, liquefied natural gas, ethane, propane, butane, refined fuels, petrochemicals and plastics to power the developing world.
The growth has helped make Houston’s Enterprise Products Partners the world’s largest exporter of propane. The company also exports butane and will ship out ethane when it completes the world’s largest ethane export facility along the Houston Ship Channel. Ethane is the primary feed stock for the booming petrochemical sector; liquefied petroleum gases like propane and butane are used for heating, cooking and transportation.
“I would’ve never thought 10 years ago that Enterprise would be a bigger exporter of LPG than Saudi Arabia,” said Anatol Feygin, senior vice president of strategy for Cheniere Energy.
Enterprise also has exported more crude oil than any other company since Congress lifted the decadeslong ban on exports in December.
“We had a vision five years ago watching the shale revolution that the U.S. was going to be long on hydrocarbons,” said Enterprise Executive Vice President Bill Ordemann, citing relatively stagnant U.S. consumption. “We felt like a vibrant export market was going to be necessary.”
Enterprise, however, doesn’t deal in LNG. That’s where companies like Cheniere and Houston-based Freeport LNG come into play.
Cheniere’s Sabine Pass export terminal in Louisiana exported America’s first load of LNG this year. Cheniere’s Corpus Christi LNG export terminal is under construction and a terminal in Freeport is scheduled to be completed in 2018.
But as the U.S., Australia and others export more LNG, demand is slowing in countries — such as Japan — that were expected to be the biggest consumers. Feygin said markets such as Egypt, Pakistan and Jordan are opening up and could help reduce a budding glut.
The opening of the Panama Canal expansion in July also will help open markets for American LNG, said Mark Mallett, Freeport’s senior vice president for operations and projects.
The canal’s expansion could boost business at the Port of Houston, Executive Director Roger Guenther said.
“I believe we’re in a significant position to capture new business,” said Guenther, adding that more shipments will come through the channel than by rail from the West Coast.
That means the channel could be further dredged and widened, he said.
“If you don’t have a channel you don’t have a port,” Guenther said. “We’ve got to take care of it.
“Our channel is going to continue to get bigger. The ships are going to get bigger. So we have to continue to push for federal support.”