A barge hit a bridge in Galveston, resulting in an oil spill. No injuries were reported. Photo via portofgalveston.com

A barge slammed into a bridge pillar in Galveston, Texas, on Wednesday, spilling oil into waters near busy shipping channels and closing the only road to a small neighboring island. No injuries were reported.

The impact sent pieces of the bridge, which connects Galveston to Pelican Island, tumbling on top of the barge and shut down a stretch of waterway so crews could clean up the spill. The accident knocked one man off the vessel and into the water, but he was quickly recovered and was not injured, said Galveston County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Ray Nolen.

Ports along the Texas coast are hubs of international trade, but experts said the collision was unlikely to result in serious economic disruptions since it occurred in a lesser-used waterway. The island is on the opposite side of Galveston Island’s beaches that draw millions of tourists each year.

The accident happened shortly before 10 a.m. after a tugboat operator pushing two barges lost control of them, said David Flores, a bridge superintendent with the Galveston County Navigation District.

“The current was very bad, and the tide was high," Flores said. “He lost it.”

Pelican Island is only a few miles wide and is home to Texas A&M University at Galveston, a large shipyard and industrial facilities. Fewer than 200 people were on the campus when the collision happened, and all were eventually allowed to drive on the bridge to leave. The marine and maritime research institute said it plans to remain closed until at least Friday. Students who live on campus were allowed to remain there, but university officials warned those who live on campus and leave “should be prepared to remain off campus for an unknown period of time.”

The accident came weeks after a cargo ship crashed into a support column of the Francis Key Bridge in Baltimore on March 26, killing six construction workers.

The tugboat in Texas was pushing bunker barges, which are fuel barges for ships, Flores said. The barge, which is owned by Martin Petroleum, has a 30,000-gallon capacity, but it's not clear how much leaked into the bay, said Galveston County spokesperson Spencer Lewis. He said about 6.5 miles (10.5 kilometers) of the waterway were shut down because of the spill.

The affected area is miles away from the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, which sees frequent barge traffic, and the Houston Ship Channel, a large shipping channel for ocean-going vessels. Aside from the environmental impact of the spill, the region is unlikely to see large economic disruption as a result of the accident, said Marcia Burns, a maritime transportation expert at the University of Houston

“Because Pelican Island is a smaller location, which is not in the heart of commercial events, then the impact is not as devastating," Burns said. “It’s a relatively smaller impact.”

At the bridge, a large piece of broken concrete and debris from the railroad hung over the side and on top of the barge that rammed into the passageway. Flores said the rail line only serves as protection for the structure and has never been used.

Opened in 1960, the Pelican Island Causeway Bridge was rated as “Poor” according to the Federal Highway Administration’s 2023 National Bridge Inventory released last June.

The overall rating of a bridge is based on whether the condition of any of its individual components — the deck, superstructure, substructure or culvert, if present — is rated poor or below.

In the case of the Pelican Island Causeway Bridge, inspectors rated the deck in “Satisfactory Condition,” the substructure in “Fair Condition” and the superstructure — or the component that absorbs the live traffic load — in “Poor Condition.”

The Texas Department of Transportation had been scheduled in the summer of 2025 to begin construction on a project to replace the bridge with a new one. The project was estimated to cost $194 million. In documents provided during a virtual public meeting last year, the department said the bridge has “reached the end of its design lifespan, and needs to be replaced.” The agency said it has spent over $12 million performing maintenance and repairs on the bridge in the past decade.

The bridge has one main steel span that measures 164 feet (50 meters), and federal data shows it was last inspected in December 2021. It’s unclear from the data if a state inspection took place after the Federal Highway Administration compiled the data.

The bridge had an average daily traffic figure of about 9,100 cars and trucks, according to a 2011 estimate.

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Lozano reported from Houston. Associated Press reporters Christopher L. Keller in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Valerie Gonzalez in McAllen, Texas; Acacia Coronado in Austin, Texas; and Ken Miller in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.

The project’s first phase is targeted to produce more than 1.1 million tonnes per annum of low-carbon ammonia by the end of 2027. Photo via Houston.org

4 energy companies join forces on low-carbon ammonia project on the Houston Ship Channel

team work

Four companies from all around the world have agreed to work on a large-scale, low-carbon ammonia production and export project on the Houston Ship Channel.

Tokyo-based INPEX Corporation, Paris-based Air Liquide Group, Oklahoma City-based LSB Industries Inc., and Houston-based Vopak Moda Houston LLC have agreed to collaborate on the project, which is expected to deliver its first phase by the end of 2027 with the production of more than 1.1 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) of low-carbon ammonia.

“As we approach the achievement of our net zero target by 2050, the unveiling of our low carbon ammonia project in Texas, USA, stands as a momentous testament to INPEX's strong commitment to environmental leadership," INPEX President and CEO Takayuki Ueda says in a news release. "This innovative endeavor marks a significant milestone to create a clean fuel supply chain for a sustainable future.

"By harnessing the power of cutting-edge technologies and collaborative partnerships with Air Liquide, LSB and Vopak Moda, we are accelerating the transition to a low-carbon world, while solidifying our position as a pioneer in energy transformation and a responsible global energy player,” he continues.

Earlier this year, the project completed a feasibility study. Each of the companies will collaborate in various capacities, according to the release, including: Air Liquide and INPEX partnering on low-carbon hydrogen production with their respective technologies; LSB and INPEX collaborating on low-carbon ammonia production, with LSB selecting the ammonia loop technology provider, the pre-FEED, and the engineering, procurement and construction of the facility and LSB overseeing day-to-day operations; INPEX and LSB would sell the low-carbon ammonia and finalize off-take agreements; and Vopak Moda, which currently operates ammonia storage and handling infrastructure, will maintain its ownership of the existing infrastructure and future storage built.

“This project is well aligned with our strategy to become a leader in the global energy transition through the production of low-carbon ammonia,” Mark Behrman, LSB Industries president and CEO, says in the statement. “As a long-standing, highly experienced nitrogen producer and developer of nitrogen production facilities, we are uniquely positioned to play a key role in a critical element of this project by overseeing the design, construction and operation of the ammonia loop."

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Energy storage facility just outside of Texas gets funding from global investor with Houston presence

fresh funds

A global independent energy and commodities group with its United States office in Houston has announced an investment in a Gulf Coast salt dome energy storage project.

Mercuria did not disclose its financial contribution into Lafayette, Louisiana-based Black Bayou Energy Hub LLC, but the company's support will go toward the development of the energy infrastructure of the large-scale, underground energy storage facility in Cameron and Calcasieu Parishes in Louisiana, which is alongside the Texas border.

"Mercuria's investment in Black Bayou Energy Hub represents a significant step towards enhancing the resilience and flexibility of our energy infrastructure. This partnership leverages Mercuria's robust financial capabilities and extensive expertise in commodity markets, aligning with Black Bayou's strategic location and development potential," Boris Bystrov, managing director of investments at Mercuria, says in a news release.

"We are committed to supporting innovative projects like Black Bayou essential for transitioning to a sustainable global energy future," he continues. "Together, we aim to create a storage solution that addresses the dynamic needs of the energy sector, fostering stability and growth in the U.S. Gulf Coast region and beyond."

Located in Southwest Louisiana near what is called "LNG Alley," the Black Bayou Energy Hub will initially store FERC-regulated natural gas energy in its salt dome storage capacity, as well as develop wide range of energy products to meet growing customer need, per the release.

The strategic location of the facility — 25 miles on either side of growing cities Lake Charles, Louisiana, and Port Arthur, Texas — is just seven miles east of the Louisiana/Texas border and 18 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico coastline.

"Mercuria's investment in the Black Bayou Energy Hub creates an ideal partnership that combines Mercuria's financial strength, extensive commodity experience, and global reach with Black Bayou's unique project attributes and the team's deep expertise developing, owning, and operating underground salt dome storage projects," adds Tad Lalande, Black Bayou's CEO. "We're thrilled to add Mercuria to our roster of existing sponsors, including Charlestown Energy Partners and Cameron Prairie Sporting Club, as we progress our development and bring this project to life."

With its local office in Houston's Greenway Plaza, Mercuria, founded in 2004, has pledged that over half of its new investments will go toward renewables and transitional energy.

Houston solar-powered tech company to collaborate on street safety device

lights on

EnGoPlanet, a Houston-based company that makes solar-powered street lights, is collaborating with a Silicon Valley company to create a solar-powered street light with emergency detection features.

Each K1 Super Tower, being created in partnership with Mountain View, California-based Knightscope, will include public safety technology such as:

  • Automated gunshot detection
  • Automated license-plate recognition
  • Blue strobe light
  • Mass-notification speaker
  • 360-degree, ultra-high-definition video

“We have been hard at work transforming conventional street lighting to one of the most advanced solar, battery, and LED solutions in the market — and we are excited to work with Knightscope to leverage that technology to further the public safety mission in an innovative way,” Petar Mirovic, CEO of EnGoPlanet, says in a news release.

Investors in EnGoPlanet, founded in 2019, include Houston-based Sallyport Investments and Paul Hobby, founding partner and managing director of Houston-based private equity firm Genesis Park.

Among the target customers for the K1 Super Tower are cities and colleges.

“Knightscope is rethinking every aspect of public safety technology,” says William Santana Li, chairman and CEO of Knightscope. “Pairing EnGoPlanet’s sustainable street lights with our innovative portfolio of capabilities will help illuminate more areas and set the new standard for city and campus safety.”

Knightscope, a publicly traded company, specializes in robotics and artificial intelligence geared toward public safety.

EnGoPlanet announced in April that it neared completion on its Calhoun County project that features 300 solar-powered, motion-activated street lights and 20 camera-equipped power poles at several local parks.

Newly named CEO to lead Houston gold hydrogen biotech co. into high-growth phase

bugging out

Using microbes to sustainably unlock low-cost hydrogen sounds like the work of science fiction, but one Houston company is doing just that.

Gold H2, a spin-off company from Cemvita, has bioengineered subsurface microbes to use in wells to consume carbon and generate clean hydrogen. The technology was piloted two years ago by Cemvita, and now, as its own company with a new CEO, it's safe to say Gold H2's on its way.

"First of all, that was groundbreaking," Prabhdeep Singh Sekhon, CEO of Gold H2, says of the 2022 pilot in the Permian Basin, "to be able to use bugs to produce hydrogen within a couple of days."

"2024 is supposed to be the year where Gold H2 takes off," Sekhon, who joined the company in April, tells the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It was one of those opportunities that I couldn't turn down. I had been following the company. I thought, 'here is this innovative tech that's on the verge of providing a ground-breaking solution to the energy transition — what better time to join the team.'"

Sekhon shares on the show how his previous roles at NextEra Energy Resources and Hess have prepared him for Gold H2. Specifically, as a leader on NextEra’s strategy and business development team, he says he was tasked with figuring out what the energy industry looks like in the next five, 10, and 20 years.

"Green hydrogen was a huge buzz, but one of the things I realized when I started looking at green hydrogen was that it's very expensive," Sekhon says. "I wanted to look at alternatives."

This journey led him to what Cemvita was doing with gold hydrogen, Sekhon says, explaining that the ability to use biotechnology to provide a new revenue stream from the mostly used up wells struck him as something with major potential.

"The idea of repurposing existing oil and gas assets to become hydrogen assets, leveraging current infrastructure to drive down overall deliver costs — to me I thought, 'wow, if they can make this works, that's brilliant,'" he says.

Now, as CEO, Sekhon gets to lead the company toward these goals, which include expanding internationally. He explains on the show that Gold H2 is interested in expanding to any part of the world where there's interest in implementing their biotech. In order to support the growth, Sekhon says they are looking to raise funding this year with plans for an additional round, if needed, in 2025.

"When we compare our tech to the rest of the stack, I think we blow the competition out of the water," Sekhon says, explaining that Gold H2's approach to gold hydrogen development is novel when you look at emerging technology in the space. "We're using a biological process — cheap bugs that eat oil for a living."

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.