The Houston Ship Channel, part of the Port of Houston, is the conduit for oceangoing vessels between Houston-area terminals and the Gulf of Mexico, and serves an increasing volume of inland barge traffic. According to retired U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Bill Diehl, president of Greater Houston Port Bureau, the Houston Ship Channel currently leads all other U.S. ports in both volume and business.
“[The Houston Ship Channel has] more than 20,000 vessel movements in a year,” Diehl said. “We move more than 200,000 barges. You tell people we’re a barge port and they get offended because they want to be big and blue water but, in reality, the petrochemical business moves on barges. That’s important for people to understand. That is big business to us. It’s a lot of jobs.”
Diehl, who recently spoke about U.S. port activity and commerce at an Economic Alliance Houston Port Region meeting, said Houston accounts for roughly 10 percent of national trade in regard to imports.
“We are the energy capital of America,” he said. “We can transport that energy out of here and into here, and that’s something people should be proud of. On the import side, Houston has about 10 percent of the national trade. Los Angeles is second with about 7 percent and New Jersey is third.
“On the export side, we have about 13 percent, followed by New Orleans with approximately 11 percent. This is another great message people should understand about a port. When you measure imports and exports, you’ll see there’s a difference in our favor of approximately $8 billion a year. Our trade balance as a country is negative $330 billion. So we are actually getting an A on our report card compared to the country. Yet I don’t think a lot of people realize this is how you get an A — by exporting. And it’s being done very well [in Houston].”
From 2000 to 2010, Houston Ship Channel vessel movements doubled, Diehl said.
“We were at about 10,000 vessel movements a year and now we’re at more than 20,000 vessel movements a year,” he said. “There are about 8,000 arrivals. They come in and go out, and get you 16,000 vessel movements. They move around within the port, which gets you another 4,000.
“If you take that 8,000 and compare it to the rest of the United States, the next closest port to us in ship movements is New Orleans. They’ll do about 6,700 vessel arrivals a year. After that it falls off to New York and Los Angeles, and they’re about 4,500 vessel arrivals a year. We do twice as many ships and we’re a barge port. If you can understand that, you should be letting people know these other ports are not even close as far as the volume and the business.”
According to Diehl, Houston sits on the onramp of global trade.
“We have a great port in our backyard,” he said. “Breaking down the vessels that move, you can see we are about two-thirds petrochemical. Because we’re the energy capital, we’re going to move a lot of oil products and chemical products.
“Eventually, everything you do is on the global market. If it’s made cheaper close, you’re in business. If it can be made cheaper somewhere else in the world then sold to you, you’ll buy it. Some people don’t realize that, saying things like, ‘I live in Kansas. I don’t do anything with a port.’ Pretty much everything you’re wearing and everything in your house is coming from the cheapest spot in the world. We need to be aware of the fact we’re competing globally. We need to take every advantage we have, which is obviously why a lot of companies are relocating to Houston because they want to buy their raw materials cheap from anywhere in the world, add value to it and then sell it anywhere in the world.”
For more information, visit www.txgulf.org or call (713) 678-4300.