Editor’s Note: Full disclosure – this story has personal significance to The Higher Learning’s two co-founders. Both grew up within miles of the proposed site and have family and friends who continue to live there to this day.
Scarcely a year after spilling half a million gallons of gasoline during Hurricane Harvey, Oklahoma-based petroleum giant Magellan has its sights set on a potential new oil tank farm in Clear Lake.
The storage facility would be located off of Clear Lake City Blvd., between I-45 and Highway 3. A proposal drawing shows 58 individual tanks spread across roughly 190 acres of land.
The proposal is already drawing local opposition. Former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, who is challenging incumbent Jack Morman for Precinct 2 Commissioner this fall, has been calling attention to the proposal on the campaign trail recently.
“I’m taking a stand against polluters who are making our families and children sick,” Garcia told Bay Area Magazine. “Hurricane Harvey polluter Magellan … now wants to build a massive petrochemical tank terminal of 58 tanks at the edge of Clear Lake on land that flooded Horsepen Bayou so badly a car was swept off Highway 3, drowning the driver during 2015’s May rain event.”
An online petition started by Clear Lake resident Gregory Alliger has already collected over 100 signatures, citing flooding concerns, pollution, and potential damage to local ecosystems like Armand Bayou. Alliger writes in his petition, “It would be irresponsible for Harris County to approve a project, proposed by a demonstrated bad actor, that flies in the face of residents’ wishes and which may cause further flooding and pollution concerns.”
Harvey’s Worst Oil Spill
Hurricane Harvey devastated the city of Houston in late August 2017, causing massive flooding that destroyed homes and businesses indiscriminately.
The neighborhood of Galena Park was particularly vulnerable, as heavy rains and dam failures to the west turned nearby Buffalo Bayou into an inland lake. But in the days and weeks after the hurricane subsided, Galena Park residents started to suspect that they might be dealing with problems that went beyond just flooding.
Residents began reporting the smell of strong industrial odors in the air, along with burning sensations in their eyes that lingered for days. “It was a heavy smell, and it even carried inside our house,” Galena Park resident Jesse Perez told The Houston Chronicle. “We had to put air fragrances in the rooms just to air out the house.”
The smell, as you’ve probably guessed by now, was gasoline. As flood waters rose in Galena Park, two massive petroleum tanks situated on the edge of Buffalo Bayou shifted on their foundations (they may have in fact floated completely off of said foundations), causing them to spring leaks.
The tanks leaked for nearly two weeks, dumping half a million gallons of gasoline into the floodwaters. According to The Chronicle, the spill was, “more than five times as big as all the other reported spills in Texas combined.”
The leaked gasoline released more than 2 million pounds of air pollution as well, leaving a cloud of benzene hanging in the air across a large swath of southeast Houston.
Magellan: A Pattern of Pollution
The tanks in Galena Park were owned and operated by Magellan Midstream Partners, an oil and gas company that focuses on moving, storing and distributing petroleum products. Magellan has storage facilities in more than 20 states and boasts the longest refined petroleum pipeline system in the country.
A week after Magellan’s Galena Park tanks failed in the floods, the company released a statement on the, “Operational Impact of Harvey.” It made no mention of the oil spill, other than to say that, “Clean-up work and inspections continue at the partnership’s Galena Park marine facility.” It was nearly two full weeks before residents were made fully aware of the extent of the spill.
The Galena Park incident was far from a first-time offense for Magellan. The company has been cited for at least 11 environmental violations in Texas over the past fifteen years, paying out more than $190,000 in fines.
Good Jobs First, a policy center focused on corporate and government accountability, has records of 25 environmental violations by Magellan, dating back to 2004. That list includes a January 2017 settlement with the EPA, in which the company agreed to pay $16 million in damages and $2 million in penalties after leaks in their pipelines contaminated waterways in Texas, Kansas, and Nebraska.
Proposed crude oil tank farm near Clear Lake City draws opposition – Bay Area Houston Magazine
A year later, Texas regulators start to act against Harvey’s polluters – Houston Chronicle
Silent Spills, Part 1 – Houston Chronicle
Feature Photo: Stranded cars sit in a mix of floodwaters and leaked fuel in Port Arthur, Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey (Thomson Reuters)