“A lot of people think of us as an oil and gas port…and we are. We are going to embrace the natural evolution in the energy space - I remind colleagues here that if you don’t like change, you will like irrelevance even less. Those constituents that have been using the port today will continue, but their cargo mix is going to evolve…and we will remain at the lead,” says Sean Strawbridge, the Chief Executive Officer at the Port of Corpus Christi.
In a conversation with Seatrade Maritime News, Strawbridge, who has a longtime background in port management combined with executive roles on the carrier and logistics side, outlined the dramatic rise of the port, in the years since 2015 when he came onboard. Strawbridge is also the current Chairman of the Board at the American Association of Port Authorities.
Originally an agricultural port dating back to the 1920s, with the growth of the oil business in Texas, Corpus Christi became an energy port with multiple refineries located there. He describes movements out of the port, up until about five years ago, as being heavily concentrated on moves of transport distillate fuels- divided between coastwise cargoes and export runs.
Strawbridge’s 2015 arrival at Corpus Christi, following work with a large dry bulk energy charterer, coincided with a dramatic sea change in the energy landscape - the Obama administration’s opening of US crude oil exports, right around the same time as the Shale Oil revolution- with a big locus in west Texas. He says: “When you look at the map, our reach extends far beyond our local geography- it includes those constituents all the way back to the Permian Basin, the Eagle Ford and San Antonio….all the way down into Mexico.”
Since 2015, ‘’we’ve nearly tripled our volumes” of tonnages moving through the port, he says. 2022 represented a high-water mark, with Corpus Christi achieving a new annual tonnage record of 187.9 million tons – a 12% increase over 2021 volumes.
The port says that: “Crude averaged a record 2 million barrels of export volumes per day in 2022, an increase over its 2021 record average of 1.76 million barrels per day.” December, 2022 saw a record 70 million barrels of crude exports. Large tankers load at two major terminals- Enbridge’s Ingleside facility, which can handle fully laden VLCCs, and Buckeye, on the port’s channel, which also loads products.
The port notes that: “Petrochemicals exports increased 23% year-on-yeae, reaching 3 million tons for the year.” LNG exports, with the Cheniere LNG facility exporting 16 million tons of cargo in 2022; an expansion slated to come online in 2024/2025 will add an additional 12 million tons of export capacity. Corpus Christi is also in the midst of a channel widening and deepening project when completed in 2024, the 54 foot channel will be the deepest along the Gulf Coast.
But the energy business is in the early innings of what will be a longer-term shift to new fuels. Strawbridge explains that, going forward, the US Department of Energy (“DOE”) is now committed to developing “hydrogen hubs” and launched a competition of sorts for grants to move these focal points for decarbonization forward; not surprisingly, many of those consortia vying for this Federal support are in the energy-producing Gulf Coast region, including four from Texas.
Corpus Christi, at the centre of crude and product movements, intends to keep its leadership role while transitioning into the future and “staying relevant” in his words. Strawbridge says: “In DOE programme to develop hydrogen hubs, we have recently joined our efforts- the Port of Corpus Christi Horizons Clean Hydrogen Hub (HCH2) with those of another Texas group- the trans-Permian hub. We will be the lead now.”
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