Port of Corpus Christi Hosts Annual Texas Energy Day Via Webinar

The Port of Corpus Christi hosted a unique Texas Energy Day event May 13, with the meeting held via webinar rather than in Washington, D.C. due to travel restrictions in place in the fight against COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The meeting faced the pandemic head-on with the theme “Managing the Critical Importance of Energy in America in a COVID-19 World.”

The virtual discussion, hosted in partnership with the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers organization (AFPM), the Natural Gas Supply Association (NGSA) and ClearPath, featured members of the Texas congressional delegation, including U.S. senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn and representatives Michael Cloud, Henry Cuellar and Lizzie Fletcher. The webinar also offered a panel discussion with Texas oil and gas industry executives, including Bo McCall, Moda Midstream president and CEO; Christopher Smith, Cheniere Energy senior vice president for policy, government and public affairs; Todd Staples, president of the Texas Oil and Gas Association; and Khalid Muslih, executive vice president of Buckeye GP and president of Buckeye’s Global Marine Terminals business. The webinar also featured Roger Guenther, executive director of the Port of Houston Authority.

Sean Strawbridge, CEO of the Port of Corpus Christi, opened the meeting by highlighting the important role Texas plays in the economy of the United States and the world. Texas accounts for nearly 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), Strawbridge said, and is the nation’s top producer of oil and gas. The state is also responsible for about 75 percent of the country’s petrochemical production. Besides that, Strawbridge said, Texas is home to 30 percent of the country’s refining capacity and accounts for 20 percent of the nation’s exports. More than 25 percent of the state’s GDP is directly connected to ports and waterways.

Against all that is the public health disaster wrought by the coronavirus and the economic disaster brought about both by stay-at-home orders to combat the spread of COVID-19 and geopolitical factors that have caused oil prices to crater. Still, Strawbridge offered a confident outlook for the future.

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“The markets will bounce back, and some of that we’re already seeing today,” Strawbridge said. “But as we move into economic recovery, we must be ready to respond in real time and with a never-before-seen sense of urgency and nimbleness, designed to put politics and bureaucracy aside, instead taking action that truly moves the needle toward saving both lives and livelihoods.

“Folks, we’re Texans, and we are tough,” he added. “We are proud. We are innovative. And we are certainly resilient. It is this constitution that has allowed us to energize the nation and the state for decades past. And we will again for decades to come.”

Like Strawbridge, each member of the energy executives panel was bullish with regard to the return of the Texas and U.S. energy industry. They each emphasized the reliable and strategic infrastructure in place that allows the United States to efficiently produce oil and gas and move it to the world market. The industry has seen downturns before, and that perspective leads them all to believe the industry will recover from both the current economic downturn and the current political climate.

“Our business is a decadal business,” Smith said. “Our investments are decadal investments. … Our business cycle extends beyond the political cycle. Even in the most difficult moments we continue to talk to suppliers. We continue to talk to buyers in China. We are the connective tissue that connects drillers in west Texas with buyers in Beijing.”

Each member of the Texas congressional delegation outlined what  Congress aims to do to both protect lives and preserve the nation’s economy. None was as blunt as Cruz, though, especially with regard to calling out Saudi Arabia and Russia, the two countries most responsible for the rapid drop in oil prices.

“I’ll tell you we have leaned in hard with the Saudis against what they were doing,” Cruz said. “A couple weeks ago, I spent an hour and a half on the phone with the Saudi energy minister telling him and the Saudi ambassador that what they were doing was completely unacceptable, and it was devastating to jobs throughout the state of Texas.

“Their response was essentially ‘but Russia, but Russia,’” Cruz added. “To which I responded, ‘I don’t give a damn about Russia. Russia is our enemy. They behave like our enemy, and we treat them like our enemy. You’re supposed to be our friend.’”

Cruz said he thinks progress has been made both with the Trump administration and the Saudis in that regard, but there’s much work to be done. Cruz said the current economic downturn is essentially the coalescence of three crises: a public health crisis, an economic crisis and an energy crisis. From an economic and energy perspective, he said, recovery requires a return of demand.

“The biggest challenge to energy right now is demand,” Cruz said. “We’ve got to get the economy moving again. We’ve got to get people driving their cars, flying on airplanes. Until demand comes back, energy is going to be in a world of hurt, and the state of Texas is going to be hurting. So I’m focusing on getting the economy moving again and doing so consistent with the science in a way that keeps all of us safe.”