By Chase Rogers
Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Aug. 19, 2022
The Port of Corpus Christi is seeing avenues to establish large-scale carbon capture, use and storage and become a hydrogen production hub.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn visited the Port of Corpus Christi this week to discuss legislation he co-authored that could incentivize the expansion of the hydrogen industry in Corpus Christi.
The Hydrogen Infrastructure Initiative, introduced last fall and sponsored by Texas’ Republican senior senator and U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, is composed of three bills targeting maritime, heavy industry and infrastructure applications.
The draft legislation states it would create programs to provide grants and low-cost supplemental loans to support hydrogen transport infrastructure, including storage and delivery means such as pipelines, shipping, rail, refueling or other infrastructure.
Cornyn, speaking during a roundtable discussion Wednesday with the port’s chief executive, Sean Strawbridge, and industry leaders, said hydrogen could take a larger role as a potential fuel source in the coming years and further diversify Texas’ energy capabilities.
“When it comes to some of these new technologies like hydrogen, infrastructure is really important, and, sometimes, we need to give them a fair opportunity to compete in the marketplace,” Cornyn said. “Texas has always been at the center of energy production, and these investments can help us grow and diversify our state’s energy portfolio.”
Cornyn said ports such as the Port of Corpus Christi are suitable to be early adopters of hydrogen fuel because multiple forms of transportation associated with port operations are all in close proximity to each other.
Strawbridge said the incentives could greatly aid the energy industry in adapting to changing needs.
“Establishing a framework to incentivize industry-enabled carbon capture, use and storage is imperative to the survival — not only to the oil and gas industry but for the entire energy industry,” Strawbridge said.
The port is seeking other avenues to get federal funding for these initiatives as well. Lobbying disclosures filed in April show the port retained a prominent lobbying firm that employs former U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, of Brownsville, to aid in those efforts.
“With tens of billions of grant dollars appropriated under the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act at stake, the Port of Corpus Christi is establishing a world-class framework for large-scale carbon capture, use and storage, and hydrogen production hub status,” a port statement responding to questions about the lobbying efforts in April reads.
State’s two senators visit port in a month
Cornyn’s visit came after Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas visited the port last week. During his visit and speaking with local media, Cruz also touched on the port’s prospects as an export hub for selling “clean hydrogen” to global markets.
“We’re also seeing expansions into new areas such as hydrogen, which I think is an exciting area where Texas is leading the way,” he said.
Strawbridge credited the recent visits to the port’s growing national profile and said the port is more continuously engaging with state and federal representatives about the port’s legislative agenda and appropriation needs.
When Cornyn introduced the Hydrogen Infrastructure Initiative, Strawbridge said the port immediately called the senator’s office to ask how it could assist.
“We need to see this bill passed in a bipartisan way this session,” Strawbridge said. “I fear that if it doesn’t pass (this session) and we see a change in control of Congress, this bill will die and we won’t see it resurrected anytime soon.”
Cornyn asked about Harbor Bridge
Speaking with local media, Cornyn was asked about the Texas Department of Transportation’s partial halt last month to construction on the new, nearly $1 billion Harbor Bridge.
The new cable-stayed bridge will span the Corpus Christi Ship Channel and replace the aging 1950s-era Harbor Bridge.
The current bridge has 138 feet of vertical clearance and thus limits the types of vessels that can enter the port’s Inner Channel because of a lower navigation clearance. The continued use of the current bridge could stymie the growth of the port, Strawbridge has said.
The new bridge will have a navigation clearance of 205 feet, allowing larger ships capable of carrying a larger quantity of goods to travel into the channel.
Echoing statements by Cruz and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who spoke to KRIS 6 News on the issue this week, Cornyn said it was “frustrating and disappointing” the bridge was not complete but understood the need to ensure the bridge is designed safely.
“Safety is job No. 1. That’s a non-negotiable red line,” he said. “In the meantime, the current bridge is being used, but we know that it’s important to have this (new) bridge completed at some point, hopefully, sooner rather than later and in a safe way.”
TxDOT has said the current bridge remains “structurally sound” and is continuously inspected.