Technology and smart policy are the reason Texas is the No. 1 oil- and natural gas-producing state in world’s No. 1 oil- and natural gas-producing country. Texans are experts at responsibly producing oil and natural gas and safely transporting those resources — through more pipeline miles than any other state — to refineries and manufacturers who make the products we use every day.
And now the Texas Legislature has an opportunity to help Texans fully maximize all that is possible because of the shale revolution. Lawmakers should support policy that will help manufacturers get their natural gas-made products to our ports, where massive international markets await.
Here’s how modernized transportation policy intersects with abundant oil and natural gas and the unmatched manufacturing capabilities in Texas:
First, natural gas is the raw material used to make 96 percent of the products we use each day like cellphones, laptops, shampoo, eyeglasses and heart valves. And that natural gas is in Texas, in spades.
Texas is home to more than one-fourth of the nation’s proven natural gas reserves. One-third of the 100 largest natural gas-producing fields in the United States are located, in whole or in part, in Texas. Because of abundant, readily available natural gas, petrochemical manufacturing in Texas is booming.
Texas is now a global leader in petrochemical manufacturing exports, with the U.S. Trade Office documenting 1.1 million Texas jobs supported by exports in 2014. A fifth of Texas’ $289 billion in exported goods in 2014 were linked to Texas oil and gas production.
Texas chemical manufacturers are far and away the biggest user of natural gas, which they use to manufacture chemical products — namely polyethylene beads — that are the primary component of plastic products. Texas manufacturers export these essential building blocks all over the world, helping to cement Texas as the No. 1 exporting state of manufactured goods for 14 years running.
However, Texas manufacturers face challenges getting their products to Texas ports for export. The gross weight limit on Texas highways under current state law is 80,000 pounds, with special permits allowing only limited increases — a restriction that forces trucks to transport partially empty containers to Texas ocean-going ports on the Gulf of Mexico.
These restrictions dramatically increase international shipping costs for Texans in an industry where containers transported in ocean traffic are typically charged a fixed rate regardless of weight.
Unnecessarily high costs slow job growth. Texas must modernize our road weight limits while maintaining and enhancing safety on our roads.
Every other container port in the nation, including Louisiana, has modified state law to create International Trade Transportation Corridors that allow modern trucks to safely carry fully loaded containers to deepwater port facilities. But Texas is behind on this front.
Fortunately, a solution for Texas is at hand.
Passage of HB 3854, legislation introduced by Rep. Geanie Morrison, chair of the House Transportation Committee, will allow truckers in Texas to purchase special permits that will allow exporters to safely transport fully-loaded containers along specially-designated International Trade Transportation Corridors to Texas ocean-going ports on the Gulf of Mexico. This bill will address this serious competitiveness gap, while requiring improvements to the permitted trucks, which will improve transportation safety, reduce impact on our roads and provide new permit revenue to support infrastructure investment in Texas.
The Texas House needs to prioritize HB 3854 — a bill that has already passed the Texas State Senate and cleared the House Transportation Committee — to complete the job of positioning Texas highways competitively in international trade.
Reasons to pass HB 3854 are urgent and compelling.
We have the natural gas. We have the manufacturing capabilities. As a result, Texas is the epicenter of the multi-billion-dollar expansion of petrochemical manufacturing in the United States.
What we need now is a modern transportation policy to safely and efficiently get these products to international markets to keep our No. 1 accolades firmly intact.
Todd Staples is president of the Texas Oil and Gas Association and former Texas Agriculture Commissioner. He can be reached at (512) 478-6331.