EPA backtracks, rejects permit for massive oil export project off Corpus Christi – The Gilmer Mirror

By Erin Douglas and Mitchell FermanThe TexasTribune

EPA backtracks, rejects permit for massive oil export project off Corpus Christiwas first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that educates — and engages with — Texans about public policy, politics, government and issues in the world. statewide.

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The Environmental Protection Agency this week refused a permit for a proposed offshore oil export terminal near Corpus Christi because it would have allowed massive amounts of pollution – reversing course after the agency under the Trump administration moved the project forward.

It’s a setback for Bluewater Texas Terminal, which is competing to establish the first major oil export facility off the coast of Texas.

The terminal, which would export up to approximately 384 million barrels of crude oil per year on large tankers, would be the largest oil export facility off the coast of Texas and would rival the largest terminal in the country’s offshore oil export, off the coast of Louisiana. blue water project is a partnership between energy companies Phillips 66 and Trafigura.

A Bluewater spokesperson told the Texas Tribune “we are reviewing the EPA’s comments.”

Oil produced in Texas would flow 21 nautical miles through an undersea pipeline from Corpus Christi to the terminal. Floating pipes connected to the offshore platform would take oil from pipelines and transfer it to tankers.

Because the export facility would be in the ocean away from the coast, there is more space for larger ships, said Victor Flatt, co-director of the Center for Environment, Energy and Natural Resources from the University of Houston.

“That way he can handle really big tankers without making sure ports have to be widened and dug and dredged,” Flatt said. “More and more bigger ships can come in.”

The emissions would come mainly from gases escaping into the atmosphere from the large floating pipes that connect to the ships. Now the EPA has said it wants the company to revise its permit to include better pollution controls – which could include flaring the gases rather than letting them escape – or withdraw the application.

The EPA under the Trump administration ruled that the Bluewater Terminal was exempt from rules that require pollution controls on tanker loading operations. Environmental groups, including the Environmental Integrity Project, argued in public comments that the exemption was unreasonable and would allow Bluewater to potentially emit a huge amount of air pollution – more than the total amount of emissions reported for all sources of volatile organic compounds in Harris. County.

In 2018, for example, 273 facilities in Harris County that emit volatile organic compounds reported a total of about 16,600 tons of VOC pollution. The Bluewater Terminal would have been allowed to emit up to nearly 19,000 tonnes of VOCs under the original proposal.

VOCs are carbon compounds that play a role in the formation of ozone and fine particles in the atmosphere. They can also have short and long term health effects such as headaches and liver damage when inhaled internally. according to the EPA.

“It was just a weird decision by the Trump EPA to try to circumvent [federal rules] for this project,” said Gabriel Clark-Leach, an attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project. “It’s a marine loading facility, so it should be subject to the marine loading rule.”

The permit would have allowed the Bluewater terminal to emit up to 66 tons per year of benzene, a carcinogenic pollutant. That’s more than any other U.S. facility reported in 2019, according to EPA data. The Galveston Bay Oil Refinery reported emitted 49 tonnes of benzene in 2019, making it the nation’s largest source of benzene emissions, according to EIP analysis.

The exemption also could have given Bluewater a big economic advantage over competitors trying to build similar projects, Clark-Leach said. Another offshore oil port project off Freeport, near Galveston, has made progress, but the pipeline connecting this facility would be to bother the Surfside Beach community.

Clark-Leach, who submitted comments to the EPA arguing for pollution controls on the project, said he was pleased and relieved by the EPA’s reversal.

“It’s strange to be excited about the EPA getting the right answer when the question was so obvious,” Clark-Leach said. “The bar has been pretty low in recent years.”

The nation’s largest offshore oil export facility sits about 20 miles off the southern Louisiana coast and is the only U.S. port capable of fully loading the largest supertanker ships, according to the company.

Prior to being redeveloped for exports, the Louisiana terminal was primarily used to offload oil imports. But after the United States lifted a decades-long ban on oil exports in 2015, the facility finally changed its infrastructure to include an export operation.

The United States now exports about 3.6 million barrels of oil per day, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Texas produces just over 5 million barrels of oil per day.

Disclosure: The University of Houston financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations, and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a suit list here.

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Grandstand at https://www.texatribune.org/2022/09/02/texas-oil-epa-export-terminal-corpus-christi/.

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Denise W. Whigham