In early November, Gov. Wolf released a press statement indicating his strong support for developing the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority's Southport property, emphasizing investing in infrastructure, creating jobs, and keeping Pennsylvania economically competitive. I applaud these goals.
Development of Southport was a goal during my administration for all the same reasons. We became excited about the prospect of a major new container port being developed here and had many expressions of interest by international companies. But global economic conditions during the recession simply did not support the required investment.
Today, however, the global and local economic backdrop is substantially better. The governor's press statement mentions two prospective uses for Southport - energy and containers - and, interestingly, it is in these two areas that dramatic economic improvements have occurred. The governor is right. Southport shouldn't have to choose between energy and containers. It should have both.
Global trade is vigorous right now, so there is a great deal of container cargo on the move. The physical expansion of the Panama Canal has stimulated the development of much larger and more efficient ships. We will soon see the completion of the Delaware River channel deepening to 45 feet up through the Port of Philadelphia, which will allow us to handle many of the larger container ships. So it is clear that the time is ripe for a viable new container cargo terminal to come to fruition.
The improved economic climate is even stronger when it comes to energy. The former Sunoco refineries that straddle the Schuylkill between the airport and Center City have been reinvigorated by energy development. The shale revolution has resulted in incredible production increases in crude oil in the mid-continent region, substantially improving the energy security of the country. State-of-the-art crude-by-rail logistics have enabled Philadelphia to benefit quickly and substantially from this shale-oil largesse.
And best of all, the incredibly prolific Marcellus region has enriched the commonwealth with natural-gas reserves that will provide clean energy and raw manufacturing materials for decades to come. A world-class energy port at Southport would continue to harvest economic benefits for the region.
The good news is that there is more than enough room to have both a container port and an energy port: The Southport site is more than 250 acres.
Containers need property directly on the river to dock the ships and stack the containers; an energy port does not need the same space, as it would use land for its tank farm that is close to rail and the proposed pipeline infrastructure the port would need. Energy ships could load and unload at mooring buoys placed at the channel's edge, which would be connected to the mainland by a pipe and conveyor bridge and therefore be independent of the container dock.
Wolf noted that an energy port would create about 500 permanent jobs. He was being appropriately conservative, but I believe a fully developed energy port would likely generate nearly $5 billion of capital investment that could support at least 15,000 highly skilled, well-compensated construction jobs as well.
The dream I had as governor for the development of Southport can become a reality. A container port and energy hub on that site could be an economic engine that would help drive Philadelphia's economy for decades.
Ed Rendell is a former governor of Pennsylvania and a former mayor of Philadelphia. He has served as a consultant to energy and container companies in recent years. firstname.lastname@example.org