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

December 23, 2020


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.

SHIP AND BARGE ACTIVITY

Year   No. of vessels 

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

* Traffic from January to September 2020

TONNAGE OF COMMODITIES

Year   Tonnage 

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

* Tonnage from January to September 2020

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