Three months after a pipe failure at Flint Hills Resources led to 14,000 gallons of light crude oil spilling into Corpus Christi Bay, environmental advocates are raising concerns about the absence of a public update from the company on the effects of the spill.
The spill, first reported on Dec. 24, originated from a pipe failure at Flint Hills Resources’ Ingleside crude oil terminal.
The light crude was found at North Beach, Corpus Christi Marina, Indian Point, Nueces Bay, the Rookery Island, a dredge material placement area and University Beach near Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.
On Friday, the day that marked three months since the spill, a coalition of seven South Texas advocacy organizations issued a news release saying Flint Hills has yet to report to the public its findings “about what happened, why it happened and at what stage the clean-up is.” They said debris from the spill is still present in the bay.
“I don’t understand why they haven’t reported such data, and why they were so hush hush about it for three months,” Love Sanchez, co-founder of Indigenous Peoples of the Coastal Bend, said in the news release. “We want answers!”
The advocacy groups are Chispa Texas, For the Greater Good, Hillcrest Residents Association, Ingleside on the Bay Coastal Watch Association, Indigenous Peoples of the Coastal Bend, South Texas Human Rights Center and Texas Campaign for the Environment.
Since Dec. 24, Flint Hills Resources has been conducting a joint investigation with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Texas General Land Office into how the spill occurred. Officials believed subfreezing temperatures may have been a contributing factor.
The investigation is ongoing, and the company expects to have a final report this spring, Jennifer Worrel, a spokesperson for Flint Hills, told the Caller-Times.
“At our weekly meeting between Flint Hills Resources, the US Coast Guard, the Texas General Land Office, and the City of Corpus Christi, we shared on Friday that the investigation is on track to conclude next month,” Worrel wrote in an email.
The size of the spill did not warrant limitations to beach access, swimming or fishing. It also was not large enough to require the cleanup response to be federally directed, City Manager Peter Zanoni said in January.
Still, the spill and cleanup forced the temporary closure of the Corpus Christi Ship Channel.
Within a couple of weeks of the spill, at least 13 birds died due to exposure to crude oil and one turtle was treated for potential exposure.
In their news release, the advocates included a list of questions for Flint Hills about how many people and animals have been exposed to the crude, the short- and long-term risks to people who were exposed and the status of the cleanup.
Worrel did not directly respond to those questions when asked by the Caller-Times.
The environmentalist groups also suggested the city take over “man-made environmental disaster management instead of ceding clean-up and investigation of accidents to the polluters” and keep industry accountable in part by administering “heavy fines” for violators of the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act.
“City Manager Peter Zanoni must better prepare city staff to quickly respond to man-made environmental disasters,” the news release stated. “The city cannot count on the fossil fuel industry to adequately respond to future disasters.”
However, Zanoni told the Caller-Times the city doesn’t have the funding, staff size or expertise to respond to environmental issues of that size. The national practice is that a company responsible for an environmental hazard is also responsible for cleaning it up, he said.
Under the Incident Command Structure, part of the National Incident Management System, an incident is not resolved until a state or federal agency — depending on the case — gives approval.
“In that case, the city wouldn’t be involved because we would be surpassed by the state, and if not the state, the federal government,” Zanoni said. “We don’t have the jurisdiction to demand that they continue to clean up or not.”
He said a city code allows the city to issue small fines, but doing so would prevent it from receiving bigger settlements from state or federal agencies in the future.
“We may be waiving some future significant dollars to get a smaller amount in the upfront” if the city imposed fines against companies, Zanoni said.
“The city’s role is to make sure we keep the community informed of the event, that we do our own overall assessment as to whether or not the persons managing it are keeping the city’s interests as a high priority,” Zanoni said.
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