Environmentalists push back on Phillips 66’s offshore crude oil plant

Environmental groups say they will fight Phillips 66’s plans to build a Bluewater crude oil export terminal off the coast of Port Aransas.

The Coastal Bend Sierra Club and other groups are asking the EPA to give the public more time to speak out on the proposed Bluewater Texas Terminals’ offshore deepwater port.

Critics say the project is environmentally risky and has the potential to disrupt fishing and birding, both popular activities that draw thousands of tourists to the region each year.

“The environmental and safety threats to our coastal community by projects like Bluewater are quite real,” said Kathryn Masten, executive director of the Ingleside on the Bay Coastal Watch Association.

Last week, the Port Authority approved a lease agreement and pipeline easement for the project, a joint venture of Houston-based Phillips 66 and Trafigura Group Pte. Ltd., a Dutch company.

The project will consist of two single-point mooring buoys stationed offshore.

There, Very Large Crude Carriers, or VLCCs, and other vessels will be able to load Permian and Eagle Ford shale crude oil that will be fed to it through a series of pipelines.

The project still requires an air permit, and is subject to a final investment decision by the two companies.

Corpus Christi’s port, the nation’s third largest based on its cargo tonnage, has long been a focal player in the transportation of crude oil and other petrochemicals. Its role has become even more pronounced and important since the December 2015 repeal of the decades-old ban on crude oil exports.

“This one export facility would put out more smog-causing pollution than 28 major refineries in Texas. Some of these are cancer-causing chemicals such as highly toxic benzene,” said Robin Schneider, executive director of Texas Campaign for the Environment.

Rich Johnson, a spokesman for Phillips 66 Midstream, said the terminal would create jobs and strengthen the local economy.

Company officials performed extensive surveys to minimize impacts to the environment, Johnson said. Air modeling and other studies were performed as part of the permitting process, and they showed the project wouldn’t impair air quality and public health.

It also would reduce the need for offshore reverse lightering — the process of transferring cargo from one vessel to another.

“Loading crude at a deepwater port is a safer, more efficient alternative to reverse lightering while also reducing nearshore ship traffic and inshore port congestion,” Johnson said.


Year   No. of vessels 

2020*  5,238
2019  6,874
2018  6,467
2017  6,482

* Traffic from January to September 2020


Year   Tonnage 

2020*  117,5448,298
2019 122,170,429
2018  106,237,407
2017  102,391,848

* Tonnage from January to September 2020

TCE and Coastal Bend Groups Oppose Phillips 66-Trafigura “Bluewater” Oil Export Proposal

Diverse and Aligned Coalition of Coastal Bend Organizations plus Regional and National Environmental Groups Oppose Phillips 66-Trafigura Proposal to Build a Massive, Risky Offshore Fossil Fuel Export Terminal near Port Aransas, Texas

(Corpus Christi) Phillips 66-Trafigura wants to build a massive Bluewater oil export terminal with huge crude oil pipelines and an offshore terminal across San Jose Island near Port Aransas, Texas.

A diverse and aligned coalition of Coastal Bend groups plus regional and national environmental groups is fighting to stop the Phillips 66-Trafigura proposal to build a massive, risky offshore fossil fuel export terminal with pipelines through Aransas Pass, crossing San Jose Island near Port Aransas to the offshore docking buoy.

Yesterday the Port of Corpus Christi made a statement about the Bluewater proposal to which the co-founder of the Coastal Alliance to Protect the Environment, CAPE’s Erroll Summerlin responded, “The Port of Corpus Christi’s blatant hypocrisy is outrageous.  Initially, they opposed the offshore project of Trafigura stating the project would circumvent the sovereignty of the State of Texas and its regulatory authority, creating risks to the environment, air quality, and security of the citizens of Texas.  Originally, the Port decried the lack of measures to control emissions of VOCs and warned of the aftermath and damage of a crude oil release from the terminal.  Now, however, they endorse Bluewater that has the same consequences and Trafigura is a partner in that project with P66.”

“This is just one more effort related to the land grab in San Patricio County designed to benefit heavily-polluting and dangerous private industries”, stated Kathryn Masten, Executive Director of the Ingleside on the Bay Coastal Watch Association (IOBCWA). “Located at the crossroads of two ship channels, our small city of 700 has had to fight off efforts to construct desalination plants, deepen ship channels, and construct new piers to accommodate VLCCs (very large crude carriers) that impact the great fishing and birding enjoyed in the Coastal Bend. The environmental and safety threats to our coastal community by projects like Bluewater are quite real.”

Texas Campaign for the Environment is part of this diverse coalition of Coastal Bend organizations mounting a public outcry concerning the EPA air pollution permitting process around the proposed Phillips 66-Trafigura Bluewater Offshore Oil Export Terminal,” said Robin Schneider, Executive Director of Texas Campaign for the Environment. “Together our coalition of groups has won the right to a public hearing and extended the deadline for comments. Outrageously, the draft air pollution permit does not require any pollution controls. This one export facility would put out more smog-causing pollution than 28 major refineries in Texas. Some of these are cancer-causing chemicals such as highly toxic benzene,” she continued.

“The local Sierra Club group has grave environmental and safety concerns about this project,” said Jim Klein, Acting Chair of the Coastal Bend Sierra Club group. “Corpus Christi industries have experienced three large fires and/or explosions in the past 10 months, indicating systemic safety short-comings that threaten the local population. The Bluewater project includes storage tanks proposed for the Taft, Texas region and pipelines from these tanks to the off-shore facility.  All of this proposed infrastructure will increase the likelihood of additional leaks, fires, and explosions. Routing the pipelines through Redfish Bay threatens this environmentally sensitive region. The off-shore facility creates concern because of the massive quantities of volatile organic compounds and air toxins like benzene scheduled to be emitted.  Lastly, the Deepwater Horizon debacle [one of the world’s worst ever oil spills] demonstrated that such off-shore facilities pose an imminent threat to the Gulf of Mexico and to Texas residents living along the gulf coast.”

EPA Process Issues
In response to a public outcry for a more accessible public input process on the Bluewater air pollution permit request, the EPA in turn extended the time period during which the public can provide comments on the Bluewater EPA Docket through January 11 and planned a public hearing for Tuesday, January 5th.

However, the EPA deadline to register to speak at the public hearing, today, Thursday, December 17, was set without allowing ample time for people to learn of the opportunity to speak at the recently scheduled public hearing, if any, provisions aren’t clear for accessibility for speakers of Spanish and other languages and for the deaf and hearing impaired.  Also the deadline to register and the actual date of the hearing straddle the nation’s most taken winter holidays rendering the process more difficult for many people.

Winter holidays are usually a time to rest during long nights. But right now, this coalition of organizations are fighting the Bluewater proposal every step of the way.

The groups have asked the EPA to postpone and reschedule the hearing to give people the opportunity to register and to include as an option, registering on the day of or during the hearing as other national agencies examining proposals for offshore fossil fuel export terminals have done.

Bluewater Community Information Meeting
Members of the public who would like more information can attend a Community Preparation Meeting on the Bluewater Proposal on Monday, January 4 at 6:30 PM. Click here to register for the Community Preparation Meeting.

Background on Bluewater Air Pollution Proposal
Bluewater seeks an air pollution permit to allow it to emit extremely high amounts of air pollution – nearly 19,000 tons per year of Volatile Organic Compounds and more than 800 tons per year of hazardous air pollution. Such toxic emissions including benzene can cause cancer or other significant health problems. The prevailing winds most of the year are toward shore, so this would likely worsen air quality for people, wildlife, and plants and would contribute to climate chaos.

So far, the EPA has failed to require Bluewater to install any pollution control technology whatsoever for the proposed offshore buoys where the crude oil would be pumped onto Very Large Crude Carriers if this project were built. The EPA has not yet required any real-time air monitoring of emissions to evaluate whether Bluewater would be keeping within the lax emission limits.

The Bluewater proposal is a dangerous risk for humans, wildlife, and the environment.  It can be stopped through the permitting process, legal challenges, financial withdrawal, and cancellation.

Texas Campaign for the Environment, Local Campaigns, Stop Dirty Projects https://www.texasenvironment.org/fund/local-campaigns/gulf-coast/
Coastal Alliance to Protect Our Environment – http://capetx.com/
“Greenhouse Gases from Oil, Gas, and Petrochemical Production” a report by Environmental Integrity Project, January 2020
“Analysis of 2019 Data on Greenhouse Gases from Oil, Gas, and Petrochemical Production” a report by Environmental Integrity Project, December 2020

EPA Phillips 66-Trafigura Docket

Media Contacts:
Erroll Summerlin, CAPE, 361-960-5313, summerline@verizon.net
Jim Klein, Coastal Bend Sierra Club, 361-334-3908. jeklein20@gmail.com
Kathryn Masten, Ingleside on the Bay Coastal Watch Association, 469-500-2373, iobcwa@gmail.com
Donna Hoffman, 512-299-5776, donna@texasenvironment.org