Industry Goes Green

The Port of South Louisiana and its business partners aim to meet the demands of the green energy transition.

Resident companies known throughout the world have made their home within the Port of South Louisiana’s tri-parish jurisdiction thanks to a pro-business operating environment and a highly motivated workforce. However, the success of being the premier sea gateway for U.S. import and export traffic also means having the responsibility for environmental stewardship. Not only has the Port of South Louisiana made substantial contributions in this arena, but so have many of the companies that reside within the Port’s corridor.

For example, the Port of South Louisiana has provided $90,000 in grants from 2016 through 2020 to Nicholls State University’s Coastal Restoration Program.

“Coastal restoration is important to the Port of South Louisiana, and we are happy to contribute to this worthy cause,” Aucoin says. 

“We very much appreciate the support we have received from Mr. Aucoin and the Port of South Louisiana,” says Dr. Allyse Ferrara, distinguished service professor at Nicholls State University. This program, which was developed in light of Hurricane Katrina, focuses on research, education and outreach. 

“We had a lab full of students, and we were waiting on funding for a large fisheries project when Hurricane Katrina hit,” Dr. Ferrara says. “We had to scramble to find funds and projects for our students, so we started talking to a variety of people and learned about a community-based restoration grant program that was accepting proposals. I wrote and submitted a proposal and was funded. Like many people, we, our students and our colleagues wanted to do something to help in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and coastal restoration was a perfect fit.”

According to Ferrara, the main goals of the program are four-fold: to produce native plants for coastal plantings; to restore and protect coastal habitats using native plants; to evaluate and monitor the success of coastal restoration projects; and to provide hands-on and feet-in-the-mud coastal restoration opportunities for students and the community.

The Coastal Restoration Program currently has several projects underway. “We have a long-term commitment in a tree seed nursery of coastal trees at the Nicholls farm,” Ferrara says. “We are also working to increase the number of trees and number of species of native plants grown at the Nicholls farm.”

Construction will soon start on a 21-acre wetland at the Nicholls farm (a collaborative project with Ducks Unlimited) to examine ways to reduce nutrients in surface waters. Furthermore, faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences were recently awarded a RESTORE Act grant to study the temporal changes in soil chemistry and in plant, fish and crustacean communities of restored ridges.

“Other studies include quantifying the ecological benefit of marsh terracing projects,” Ferrara says. “Recent work has demonstrated that newly created terraces begin to function similar to established marsh in as little as one year.”

Another substantial project is the construction of the Coastal Center at Nicholls State University, breaking ground next year.

“It will focus on research, projects, models and displays of the Atchafalaya River, and the Atchafalaya and Terrebonne basins, and will work to restore, protect and preserve our working coast,” Ferrara says. “There is a tremendous need for the Coastal Center, because our region experiences the greatest rate of land loss in the nation. The Nicholls community is directly impacted by coastal land loss with 87 percent of our students, faculty and staff living in a coastal parish. The ecology, culture and economy of our region are all connected and rely on the sustainability of our coastal habitats.”

With its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, the Atchafalaya Basin and the Barataria-Terrebonne estuary, Nicholls State University has seen first-hand how Louisiana’s waterways affect everyday life and culture. However, it is important not only for residents of the area but also non-residents to feel invested in Louisiana’s coastal habitats. “We work and live in an ecologically diverse and important area that must be protected and restored for our benefit and the benefit of the nation,” Ferrara says.

According to Ferrara, it is also important to engage maritime professionals in coastal restoration. “We like working with industry partners because they have an interest in preserving and restoring coastal habitats,” she says. “Collective efforts can accomplish more and complete larger projects with greater impacts. Working with industry partners provides opportunities for our students to interact with professionals and to possibly secure employment or internships.”

In addition to the Port of South Louisiana’s direct support of the Coastal Restoration Program, many companies within the Port’s corridor have pivoted to protect the environment by reducing carbon emissions and investing in coastal restoration. For example, Valero—the world’s largest independent petroleum refiner and the second largest renewable fuels producer—is steadfast in its energy transition strategy. It includes reducing emissions and waste, reusing energy and byproducts, recycling materials and repurposing waste.

The company is already a leader in the production of renewable fuels, with more than $3 billion invested. Over the next three years, Valero will invest another $2 billion to expand board-approved low-carbon projects. For example, some of the funds will be used to complete the expansion of a renewable diesel plant located next to Valero’s St. Charles refinery. The funds will also be used to build another renewable diesel plant adjacent to Valero’s refinery in Port Arthur, Texas. These types of projects have made the company a leader in the industry for an energy transition.

This year, Valero has allocated more than 50 percent of growth capital expenditures to low-carbon projects. This investment is part of the company’s plan to reduce/offset 63 percent of global refining Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 (and to further reduce and offset 100 percent by 2035). As demand increases for renewable fuels—driven by low-carbon fuel policies and stricter fuel-efficiency standards—Valero will continue to leverage its liquid-fuels platform and operational expertise to diversify into high-growth, high- return, lower-carbon projects. In addition to absolute refining GHG emissions reductions, Valero’s production of renewable diesel and ethanol offers meaningful reductions in life cycle GHG emissions, compared with traditional diesel and gasoline.

Through these types of coastal restoration and carbon reduction projects, the Port of South Louisiana—and the businesses who call the corridor home—are making significant strides in environmental stewardship. As more of the industry comes together in a unified effort to enact change, environmental protection will only continue to improve.