New EDF Study Takes A Closer Look at Operations and Air Emissions within the Houston Barge Industry

Diesel engine emissions continue to be a problem in the United States even though light cars and trucks have seen 30 years of improved engine standards.  Exposure to diesel exhaust can cause lung damage and respiratory problems, exacerbate asthma and existing allergies, and increase the risk of cancer.  Given the impact of these emissions on human health, EDF has been pushing for stronger protections from diesel pollution over a decade.  By reducing exposure, we can prevent illness, reduce healthcare costs, and save lives.

Emissions and the Houston Barge System

Diesel exhaust in Houston is produced from a number of sources: on and off-road heavy duty equipment and machinery, marine engines, and other equipment used in port operations.  In order to implement effective pollution reduction initiatives, we must first properly evaluate and characterize emissions from various sectors within the region.  This has proven to be a difficult task, particularly in marine freight and the barge industry.

Freight movement by barge is an important aspect of the Houston economy—and a significant source of air pollution. While maritime transportation is comparably efficient in terms of energy consumption, the sheer volume of marine traffic in Houston makes these emissions an important local health issue.

The Houston Tug & Barge System: A Review of Operations and Opportunities

To help characterize and understand regional maritime emissions, EDF developed a report outlining the profile of barges that operate in the Houston area. The recently released report, “The Houston Barge System: A Review of Operations and Opportunities,” discusses the combustive as well as evaporative emissions associated with barges operating in the Houston region, and identifies opportunities for establishing emissions reduction targets.

Key Areas of Opportunity

Among the findings catalogued in the report, a few opportunities and challenges stand out:

  • While large oceangoing vessels are a more significant source of marine emissions than harbor tugs, they are regulated primarily by international standards and not subject to local pollution standards.
  • Given their area and hours of operation, the Houston tugboat fleet offers perhaps the best opportunity for emission reductions on the Houston Ship Channel.
  • The current fleet of harbor tugs is relatively old and inefficient, and serviced to pre-emissions control standards.
  • Auxiliary engines are key targets for reduction: they log more hours, require more frequent maintenance, and are easier to replace.
  • The extensive utilization of each tugboat means that individual improvements can have big payoffs for air quality.
  • Recent inclusion into the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) for tugboats could initiate the transition to a cleaner, lower emitting tugboat fleet.

The quality of the air we breathe has a direct impact on our health. The information from this study will help determine the most effective and efficient pollution control strategies for the maritime freight industry and should be used as a guide to develop policies that improve our air quality in Texas.

This entry was posted in Air Pollution, Houston, Ports. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.


  1. Posted April 16, 2012 at 3:51 AM | Permalink

    To be honest you cannot beat the services or the people that I have dealt with. Thanks guys, keep up the good work! You had share very essential factors.Thanks for sharing!

  2. Posted June 4, 2013 at 5:16 AM | Permalink

    The emission problem was always underestimated. Houston has to find a solution for it: This is about the health of people! The study is the first step for an improvement. Keep on working on that Houston!