Port Fourchon plots its course as the world moves away from oil and gas

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Travel south to where the land of Louisiana gives way to the sea, then continue. You might feel like you’re driving to the end of the world, crossing a large winding bridge over a broken swamp to reach the southernmost port in the state.

Upon arrival, you are first greeted by elevated fishing camps before passing a long stretch of marsh constructed with dredging. Beyond that, there is the industry, the port customers. Massive warehouses and wide holds house large ocean-going vessels. Towering storage tanks hold fuel and water that ships can transport to oil and gas platforms miles offshore.

As one of the main oil and gas ports in the country, Port Fourchon, at the southern end of the parish of Lafourche, plays a vital role in maintaining one-sixth of the country’s oil supply. Its customers serve 95% of oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico. But the port is also increasingly threatened by global warming, driven in large part by the industries it serves.

This was demonstrated by Hurricane Ida. Nearly a year later, the damage from the storm remains clearly visible. Some warehouses have not yet been repaired and the wooden docks are broken. The port’s 1,700 acres sit directly on the Gulf, making it the first to feel the effects of worsening hurricanes and accelerating sea level rise. This is in addition to managing the current land loss crisis in the state.

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The environment surrounding the oil and gas port is personal to Executive Director Chett Chiasson and much of the port staff. This is where they grew up. Chiasson himself is a native of Larose who now lives about 30 miles north of Fourchon in Cut Off. He saw the coast eroding.

Watch the wetlands disappear

An aerial view shows Port Fourchon Coastal Wetlands Park, 100 acres of wetlands constructed with dredged soil to create a waterway for the port.  The park features a man-made tidal stream suitable for kayaking, paddleboarding, recreational fishing, and bird watching.

“I’m 45. I watched him, for 45 years, disappear,” Chiasson said. “Although we are very pro-industry and pro-energy, we are environmentalists because we grew up that way.”

Their connection to the local wetlands prompted them to build more with the sediments they dredged to maintain the harbour, strengthen habitat around for local species and flood protection. Now, for the first time, they have begun to think about their industry’s role in climate change, and they are reimagining the future of the port as the world seeks to move away from fossil fuels.

It starts with being transparent about greenhouse gas emissions, reporting that has long been lacking in the marine industry.

Globally, the maritime industry is responsible for around 3% of all global warming emissions, according to estimates by the International Maritime Organization. But industry experts have said greenhouse gas emissions are not a consideration on ships, which has only started to change in the last decade.

Port Fourchon is one of the first seaports in the United States to begin closing the information gap.

Test the air

A contractor installs an air monitor on a power pole in Port Fourchon to measure greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants in real time.

Four months ago, staff installed sensors throughout the port to perform real-time air monitoring, track emissions at different locations and see where they are coming from.

Chiasson said the port is still collecting this data and has not yet set firm targets to reduce carbon emissions. A plan will come in time, and SailPlan, the same company that installed the sensors, will also help.

“Before you start optimizing, you need to understand your problem and the possibilities of optimizing what you can solve and what you can’t,” said company founder Jacob Ruytenbeek.

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Dan Hubbell, who focuses on shipping emissions for the Ocean Conservancy, said air monitors are still not widely used by the marine industry. Instead, companies rely on estimates based on how much fuel their ships use, which often leads to undercounting.

Ruytenbeek said the industry faces increasing pressure to cut emissions after decades of neglecting to track. And the oil and gas industry that Port Fourchon customers serve faces similar pressure.

If offshore service companies show they are reducing their footprint, they become attractive to large oil and gas companies. And seaports like Fourchon can help their customers do just that.

Go electric

Two oil tankers are moored at Port Fourchon as a storm rages on July 25, 2022.

Within the port itself, reducing carbon emissions means electrifying things where possible, from the vehicles and equipment the port uses, to building electrical hookups that the ships themselves will use while docked. This option – using “shore power” – was brought online at Fourchon two years ago through a partnership with Entergy Corporation.

“That’s the first thing in my mind that would reduce emissions is for everyone, as soon as they come in, plug in. Don’t use your generators,” Chiasson said.

A study published earlier this year by the University Marine Advisory Services suggested that Fourchon in particular would be one of the best ports to start electrifying due to several factors, including its customers’ shipping routes and high consumption. fuel. Some companies chose to participate, but Chiasson said the port did not mandate it. Instead, port officials are beginning to look for ways to incentivize it or help pay for the installation.

Hubbell, with Ocean Conservancy, noted that ports and businesses could go even further by possibly creating mobile charging stations to send to vessels idling offshore.

For ships themselves, emissions will be difficult to eliminate until alternative carbon-free fuels like hydrogen or ammonia become available.

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Begin

Port Fourchon, at the southern tip of Lafourche Parish, is a shipping hub that services 90% of the oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

A few have already started reducing their emissions, such as Harvey Gulf. The offshore marine supply company works from Port Fourchon and has five vessels that run on a mixture of renewable liquefied natural gas – usually collected from landfills or farms where the decaying material creates methane – and a battery.

They are also among the first U.S. supply boats to have real-time monitors installed on their ships’ stacks to track their emissions and operate more efficiently, saving their customers money on fuel.

“It makes my vessel more marketable,” said Chad Verret, Harvey Gulf’s executive vice president for LNG operations. Increased efficiency also reduces maintenance costs.

LNG burns cleaner than traditional diesel engines, Verret said, while the company waits for other fuels to come online. When that happens, Hubbell noted that ports will have a role to play in ensuring the infrastructure is available on-site for ships to refuel with hydrogen or ammonia.

A wind of change

Meanwhile, Port Fourchon is on the precipice of a new economic engine: offshore renewable energies. The same companies that serve the Gulf’s oil and gas industry have the tools to build massive wind farms aimed at replacing the country’s reliance on fossil fuels for electricity.

“The offshore wind is real. I believe we could see a project coming in a few years,” Chiasson said. “I didn’t think it was going to be this fast and with this much interest, … but this industry takes notice of Fourchon.”

The wind giants that started building on the East Coast already know Fourchon’s customers, and now they’re coming south. As oil and gas are phased out, this means offshore wind could improve the long-term viability of companies created with the fossil fuel industry in mind – and spur a brand shift.

“We’re changing that narrative to be: We’re in an energy service port,” Chiasson said. “Whatever the energy is, that’s what we’re going to be involved in.”

– Courier and Daily Comet editor Keith Magill can be reached at 857-2201 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @CourierEditor.

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