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Harvey Triggers Major Gasoline Spill in Texas

The Law Office of C. William Smalling, P.C. Sept. 22, 2017

What Were the Environmental Impacts of Hurricane Harvey?

As Southeast Texas continues to grapple with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, the immediate and long term environmental impacts will be a key consideration. In particular, the storm triggered failures numerous leaks from petrochemical storage tanks into area waterways.

Largest Gasoline Spill Recorded

In one incident, floodwaters caused nearly a hall-million gallons of gasoline to spill from two storage tanks along the Houston Ship Channel. The spill of 10,988 barrels, about 461,000 gallons, is said to be the largest spill caused by a storm hitting the petrochemical industry in Texas.

The spill occurred at a tank farm in Galena Park owned by Magellan Midstream Partners, according to accident reports submitted to federal officials by the Oklahoma-based company. Part of the spill flowed into a nearby waterway where dozens of petrochemical facilities are located. Although the spill was contained and state and federal regulators have been involved with recovery and restoration efforts, the possible long term health effects and environmental contamination are not clear. Neither the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have provided an assessment in this regard.

However, TCEQ is investigating the incident to determine if Magellan complied with regulations regarding the disclosure of gasoline spills and any related air pollution. The company initially reported the spill to state and federal officials on August 31, but provided no details about the size of the spill. The next report indicated the spill was only 1,000 barrels, but in a subsequent report filed in first week of September, Magellan disclosed the spill was 10,988, 10 times higher than its earlier assessment. Nonetheless, the company claims that state and federal regulators had been promptly notified of its best assessment of the spill’s volume.

Other Harvey Related Spills

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that there were more than two dozen spills from fuel and gasoline tanks. Some were swept away by floodwaters, while others had their roofs sink due to the heavy rainfall. Combined with the Magellan incident, the spills released more than 600,000 gallons of fuel into area waterways.  Although current regulations do not require tank owners to implement measures to make tanks flood resistant, the broader oil and gas sector has taken steps to protect pipelines and refineries from flood damage. Going forward, resolving these issues will require the advice and counsel of experienced energy and environmental attorneys.