David Bauerlein - Jacksonville’s port regularly gets fuel tankers steaming up the St. Johns River, but with the recent boom in natural gas, U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho envisions a future when vessels are leaving Jacksonville loaded with liquefied natural gas for export to overseas markets.Yoho convened a two-day American LNG Summit this week in Jacksonville, ending Wednesday with tours of the port and liquefied natural gas facilities already in operation here.“You look at the growth areas around the world. We’re such a small player, but the potential is huge,” Yoho said.Even as Yoho, R-Gainesville, and other speakers at the summit talked about the nation becoming a major exporter of natural gas, the escalating trade war between the United States and China expanded with China threatening to slap a 25 percent tariff on liquefied natural gas shipped from the U.S.During a panel discussion Tuesday at the Florida State College at Jacksonville campus at Cecil Commerce Center, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce representative said if the country doesn’t keep international trade flowing, it could end up with “nice shiny export facilities” but limited overseas markets for sales.“If we alienate the world with trade wars, no one is going to take our gas,” said Christopher Guith, senior vice president for the U.S. Chamber Global Energy Institute.He said that would be a blow to the economy because the country has vast untapped natural gas resources, and “being able pull it out of the ground and put it on the world market” is crucial to the energy industry.
Yoho said he supports President Donald Trump’s moves to clamp tariffs on Chinese goods. He said “if we stand strong,” the end result of that policy will be beneficial because the United States must bring down its trade deficit with China.“You don’t get a $367 billion deficit overnight,” Yoho said. “It’s through negligence and neglect over decades. I’m glad the president is doing this. It’s a re-adjustment. I think it’s going to be temporary.”For Jacksonville, the most likely overseas market for liquefied natural gas would be closer to shore — Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.Jose Ortiz, CEO of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, said the territory’s power plants rely heavily on diesel and residual oils for their fuels, so replacing that with natural gas would bring down costs and be cleaner-burning for the environment.Ortiz said he is seeking to make major overhauls to PREPA.“I didn’t come here to improve PREPA,” he said during the panel discussions Tuesday. “I came here to replace it, because it needs to be replaced in order to really serve the people of Puerto Rico.”Jacksonville’s port already handles some small-scale exports of liquefied natural gas to Puerto Rico in a partnership between Eagle LNG and Crowley Maritime.Crowley Maritime and TOTE Maritime have ships that run on liquefied natural gas. Eagle LNG has a liquefication plant in the Maxville area and is building a second plant off Heckscher Drive to serve both domestic and international markets.JAX LNG also operates a liquefication and storage facility in Jacksonville at the Dames Point Marine Terminal.