Spill from Tank Farm Fire Closes Houston Ship Channel

The Deer Park tank fire as seen from space, March 19. The ditch leading to Tucker Bayou is obscured by the smoke, top center (Planet Labs / Twitter)

By The Maritime Executive 03-25-2019 10:46:45

On Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard said that about five dozen ships will have to wait to transit the Houston Ship Channel while efforts to clean up waste from the International Terminals tank fire continue. 

The fire at International Terminals Co.'s Deer Park tank farm broke out on March 17, and it spread to seven filled tanks at its peak. It was largely out by Wednesday, except for a few reflash events, and workers at the site have been draining off the last of the petrochemicals in the affected tanks. 

On Friday, the containment wall around the tank farm failed, sending an unknown quantity of refined petroleum products and firefighting foam into a ditch that drains into the Houston Ship Channel. 

The environmental contractor for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has been working to contain the site using booms, and it is pumping waste to storage containers to minimize the release. The Coast Guard's Gulf Strike Team, which specializes in spill response, has been called in to assist, and 15 skimmers are currently working on the cleanup effort on the waterway. About 60,000 gallons of contaminant-laden water have been collected so far, and the Houston Chronicle reports that most of the rest has been contained within Tucker Bayou, a small inlet adjacent to Deer Park's marine terminal. 

Environmental assessments are under way. TCEQ has been sampling water from the drainage ditch, and nine chemicals in its samples exceeded health-protective concentration levels, including xylenes, pyrene, anthracene, benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, phenanthrene, fluoranthene, and 2-methylnaphthalene. Surface water sampling continues in Tucker Bayou, the Houston Ship Channel, and the channel's entrance to Galveston Bay. TQEC has not yet released the results of these sample tests, but it noted that the spill does not threaten drinking water supplies.