Michael Johns, Freeport LNG's Director of Regulatory Affairs for the past 14 years, is a product of the Texas coast. He grew up near Santa Fe, Texas on a farm that ran cattle and raised chickens for their eggs. There, he was exposed to soil and grass management as well as the coastal marsh environment where he fished and hunted duck with his father.
Beginning in fourth grade, he had a series of inspiring science teachers who encouraged his love of the outdoors. His high school senior advanced biology class convinced him that environmental science was something where he could excel. This class allowed him to place out a semester and a half at A&M
University, where he pursued a BS in wildlife and fishery sciences and a Masters in agricultural economics. One of his professors, Dr. Wade Griffin, was developing research in gulf fisheries and economics—a perfect fit for Johns who had become fascinated with aquaculture. "My master's thesis," said Johns, "was basically a modeling effort to try and find out where the most efficient economic point was for size of shrimp, stocking density, feeding rates and things like that."
After graduation, Johns developed a commercial shrimp farm in Anahuac, Texas. He leased several ponds and acquired funding from Dallas investors, ordered the shrimp larvae and began to grow them out. But after successfully raising shrimp through two seasons, the oil market crashed and the investors—although very impressed with the shrimp that were produced—had to bail out.
Texas Parks and Wildlife at its Seabrook, Texas office was his employer for the next five years. "Oddly, they had a job that really fit everything that fit my education and my background," he remembered. He worked on a grant from the National Marine Fisheries Service to develop a model that would predict fisheries catches, developed the Oyster Management Plan for Texas and started up another shrimp farm near Copano Bay on the side. He also began offering environmental consulting, which eventually became his next career step.
Johns' consulting was primarily with oil and gas customers doing development and seismic work in Latin America, Africa and Europe. He would often find himself working with foreign environmental ministries to obtain permits and clearances for seismic arrays. "It was a blast," he enthused. "I met a lot of good people, and developed a lot of environmental impact statements in Spanish, French and Portuguese. So, it hit a lot of sides of my personality I was glad to hit."
Consulting eventually led Johns to work with Cheniere on permitting and field surveys for their three LNG sites. After Michael Smith stepped in as a separate investor of the Quintana site, Johns came aboard Freeport LNG Development and began work on baseline surveys for wetlands, threatened and endangered species and cultural resources; assessments that would determine if there was anything that might stop the project. Before and during regas terminal construction, Johns was involved in several watershed environmental projects.
Erosion on the Intracoastal Waterway posed a real problem for Quintana Island's northern shore. Johns came up with a plan to install a series of gabions that stabilized the shoreline while a planting of marsh grass called Spartina alterniflora took hold. The grasses worked very well, and Johns and Freeport LNG received the Keep Texas Beautiful Award for sedimentation control while simultaneously creating a healthy marine habitat.
Another wetlands opportunity presented itself during the planning of air towers which warm the LNG for pipeline transportation. The water that exited the towers after use was 50 degrees Fahrenheit—too cold for reintroduction into the Intracoastal Waterway. Johns proposed a solution that developed a holding pond that allowed the water to return to ambient temperature before release, and act as a location to mitigate loss of wetlands from construction. In this win-win solution, Johns happily observes that, "the pond now serves as a habitat for a lot of wading birds, ducks, fish and crabs."
During construction Johns was also involved in relocating a population of Least Terns that nested on the worksite. Then he worked with the Quintana community to expand habitat for local and migrating birds on the island. He was involved in building an observation tower and funding water features for the Neotropical Bird Sanctuary. And through help from Freeport LNG, Xeroscape Park was expanded to 2.5 acres, received funds for water features and tree plantings and had platted roadways schedule to cut through the park cancelled.
Michael Johns' Career is a
As Johns approaches his retirement in 2017, looking back on his time with Freeport LNG has been a happy assessment. "The reason I enjoy Freeport LNG is that we're very proactive. We get out there and do the right thing, and I think it's paid dividends for us in the long run.
What I'm enjoying later in my career is watching our young employees come into their own and take flight. And so my job over the next year plus is to continue their education and bring them to where they're fully fledged and capable of carrying on."