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Port Houston continuing to thrive in plastics

December 4, 2016

The Port of Houston Authority, which is currently in the midst of a branding campaign to be known as Port Houston, says the operation is thriving.

“At the port, business is good. Our container volume continues to grow,” said Executive Director of Port Houston Roger Guenther, who is a third generation Baytonian and a 1979 graduate of Robert E. Lee High School.

“However, the price of oil has certainly had an impact. Import as a drilling pipe for instance, four years ago we had about seven million tons of drilling pipe. This year we’ll be lucky to do two (million) but on the flip side of that, the rise of natural gas and all the investment going on (in Baytown) has really boosted our business.”

The plant expansions on industry positively impacts Port Houston because the materials needed ultimately come via ship, coming through the port.

“It (plastics) all goes in a container. About 90 percent of this product that you’re hearing about today goes into a container for the reason that it’s very flexible, very efficient, the best way and the cheapest way to do it,” said Guenther. “And it goes through our ports, it has historically gone through our Barbours Cut and Bayport terminals and continues to do so.”

About 1,000 containers a day with plastics show up at Port Houston for export, which Port Houston has been expecting for years.

“Houston, for decades, has been the dominant exporting port for plastics for the whole U.S.,” said Guenther. “In 2015, 75 percent of the plastics, polymers, came through the Port of Houston. That pie is going to get bigger, and we want to continue to keep our share.”

To handle this volume while sustaining efficiency at the port, Port Houston has made investments in its infrastructure.

“We believe we’re in a good position, we’ve planned for this for many, many years,” said Guenther. “We’re dredging, we’re buying bigger cranes and the ships are getting larger — the Panama Canal is being expanded, driving larger vessels through the canal into Houston.” In addition, Guenther said Port Houston is going to make another billion-dollar investment over the next seven to 10 years to increase capacity.

“We’re about halfway built out, and we handle a little over 2 million TEUs — that’s Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit (unit used to measure a ship’s cargo carrying capacity) last year,” said Guenther. “We’re going to surpass that this year, and in 2017 we’re expecting another 8 to 10 percent growth.”

By Christopher James