On March 27, 2019, the headline on this column was “Two words: Deer Park.”
Deer Park was the site of a chemical fire in a storage tank along the Houston Ship Channel. It took days to control, and in the meantime another fire erupted on the site of the first three tanks that had already burned. Chemicals used to control the blaze leaked into the ship channel, causing it to be closed. Nearby tourist sites were closed. On the days when the sky was filled with black smoke from the fire, one in five students in the Deer Park school district did not attend classes.
The point of that headline was that if anyone needed an example of why a crude oil terminal for very large crude carriers (VLCCs) should not be established on Harbor Island in Port Aransas, I had two words for them: Deer Park.
The final lines of the column were: “The likelihood of such a devastating event may be minimal, but just like a hurricane, it only takes one. And that’s one chance we don’t want to take.”
And then it happened in (two words) Corpus Christi.
On Friday morning, Aug. 21, a fire broke out on a dredging vessel operating in the Port of Corpus Christi. Reports were of 18 workers in the area, eight of whom were injured. Four were transported by ambulance and two were transported by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter to Corpus Christi hospitals, according to a news release from Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales. The bodies of four missing workers were recovered, two on Sunday and the others on Monday.
The fire on the vessel, the Waymon L. Boyd, was extinguished by about 10 o’clock that night after the vessel broke apart and sunk. Measures were taken to contain any spill in the inner harbor and turning basins. According to the county judge’s office, approximately 1,600 gallons of diesel fuel were removed from the water and 680 gallons of diesel fuel/water were skimmed overnight.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
As pointed out in the March 27, 2019 column, such a catastrophe could happen in Port Aransas if the Port Authority of Corpus Christi proceeds with its plan to build a terminal (with tanks) on Harbor Island inside our city limits. And here, unlike in the inner harbor, the potential for damage to our fisheries could have dire, long-term and possibly permanent, consequences. Collateral damage to our tourist-based economy would have to be factored in to such an event.
The economic benefits of such a terminal do not outweigh the environmental considerations upon which our economy is based. Without a healthy environment, our eco-tourism-based economy could not exist.
Instead of focusing on a crude oil terminal for VLCCs on Harbor Island, we encourage the port to focus on a safer alternative: an offshore monobuoy system.
The potential damage a crude oil terminal on Harbor Island could inflict on our fisheries, the general ecology of the area and the tourism industry in Port Aransas would be devastating – more devastating than a hurricane, and more permanent.
We said it before, and we’ll say it again: The likelihood of such a devastating event may be minimal, but just like a hurricane, it only takes one.
This incident was much too close for comfort.