A member of the Texas Railroad Commission who visited Corpus Christi Wednesday morning predicts that oil prices will rise above $60 a barrel by next year.

Railraod Commissioner Ryan Sitton said they are already issuing new drilling permits based on that estimate.

Sitton was visiting to show his and the State's support for the widening and improvements to the Corpus Christi ship channel. He toured the entire channel and explained where oil demand will be in the next several years.

"50-percent of the growth is going to come from Asia, so we've got to get our products to Asia," Sitton said. "And right now the Port of Corpus Christi is going to play a vital role in that. Not only because it's already a big liquid export facility, but because the geography where we are enables ease of construction of pipelines to bring products into this port."

Sitton said after improvements, the Port will become one of the biggest export ports in the nation.

"We're talking about going from a million barrels of crude oil a day to three million barrels of crude oil a day, which would be three-percent of the world's oil consumption. That will be tens of thousands of jobs all up and down the entire ship channel, and particularly right here in Corpus Christi."

The major improvements to the ship channel include dredging out the current 42-foot depth to 54 and widening the channel to 530 feet. That covers all 36 miles and includes the La Quinta Ship Channel.

Currently, the Port can handle million-barrel tankers. After the improvements and the new Harbor Bridge, the Port will be able to handle two-million barrel tankers.

Jarl Pedersen, Chief Commercial Officer with the Port, said businesses are ready to make investments based on the upgrades authorized by congress 11 years ago.

"In four years we'll have a new bridge. A year later, the old bridge will be taken down and we will be able to accommodate the largest vessels, because when the largest vessels are not filled, when they're coming in empty, they sit very high in the water."

They hope to begin the deepening and widening of the La Quinta ship channel within the next six months, and of course, have it done in five years when the new bridge is up and running.