President Donald Trump wants action when it comes to helping Texas ports.
With growing activity from the Permian Basin and Eagle Ford Shale, along with billions of dollars in pipelines in the works to ship crude oil to the Port of Corpus Christi, there is a need to get it all out quickly and efficiently. But Texas ports are as yet unable to accommodate Very Large Crude Carriers, capable of holding up to 2 million barrels of crude oil.
The Port of Corpus Christi is in the midst of a nearly $350 million expansion project — for which the federal government is ultimately responsible for about two-thirds of the cost — that would widen and deepen the port's ship channel.
But Trump on Monday asked the federal government to do more for Corpus Christi and other Texas ports. He directed Andrew Wheeler, acting administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, to work with state leaders to complete needed infrastructure projects in Texas ports.
"Whatever you can do for the great state of Texas — this way they can bring the giant ships right in, fill them up and they go out, and it'll be a tremendous difference," Trump said during a speech at the White House State Leadership Day Conference. "We'll sell a lot more oil."
Federal funding has been slow to trickle in for the channel project, though the port has already committed more than $100 million to get the first phase of the project underway. That dredging work has not yet begun, though initial bids for the first phase came in much higher than expected, port officials have said.
There have also been concerns about getting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to move faster on starting work on the various project phases, which has been tough because the Corps is underfunded and overworked, port officials have said.
Congressmen Michael Cloud and Henry Cuellar last month celebrated their votes to help secure $13 million in federal funding that will go toward the channel project, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers previously included $23 million in its Fiscal Year 2018 Work Plan to help fund the second of the project's six contracts.
Cloud was able to talk to Trump about the Port of Corpus Christi's ship channel needs while riding on Air Force One following a rally in Houston for Sen. Ted Cruz on Sunday. Trump's directions to Wheeler came the next day, and while the president's comments did not specify the Port of Corpus Christi, they were clear about the need to help Texas ports as quickly as possible.
The Port of Corpus Christi is the nation's largest exporter of crude oil, and fourth largest in total tonnage.
Parts of the Port of Corpus Christi's Ship Channel are so narrow, two-way traffic is impossible. (Photo: Chris Ramirez/Caller-Times)
"Right now, it's vital that we expand our capabilities," Cloud said. "We are producing more oil than we can get out as a nation. Corpus Christi's port serves as the spigot for oil production in our nation, and we need a bigger spigot."
Port officials and Cloud have said the Port of Corpus Christi is vital to the nation's growing role as a global energy producer, and serves national security interests because it ensures the country is less reliant on foreign energy. Port leaders have also said that the ship channel project would help lower the country's existing trade deficit, since the Port of Corpus Christi focuses primarily on exports.
"In order to achieve the U.S. energy dominance we have an opportunity to realize, our country's energy infrastructure must be adequately funded to meet global demand," Port of Corpus Christi CEO Sean Strawbridge said in a statement.
"The Port of Corpus Christi plays a vital role in America's energy independence, and as the gateway for oil exports, it is essential the Army Corps of Engineers executes flawlessly on the deepening of the Corpus Christi Ship Channel to meet the exponential appetite for U.S. energy from our trading partners," he added.