Most of the time, the phrase oil “spill” is a bit of an understatement. And that’s absolutely true of the Marathon Petroleum oil spill that happened in Texas City this week. A leak caused oil to cascade out of a storage tank, flooding the ground, shutting down a nearby road, and causing concern for locals and environmentalists.
A day later, officials are still working to clean up the damage — here are all the details.
The Marathon Petroleum oil spill is still being cleaned up in Texas City.
The incident went down at around 8 a.m. on Wednesday morning, Oct. 6, 2021, at the Marathon Galveston Bay Refinery in Texas City, Texas, southeast of Houston. According to the Marathon Petroleum website, the refinery can refine 593,000 barrels of crude oil every day.
Bruce Clawson, Texas City’s interim director of Homeland Security, told local news outlet ABC13 that a failed pump seal is what caused one of the refinery’s massive oil tanks to suddenly start leaking crude oil this week. Clawson stated the leak was confined to the site, and that none of the refinery’s 1,640 employees were injured; however, pretty soon, footage of the crude oil streaming out of an outdoor storage tank made its way onto the internet.
As seen in the above footage, the oil is quickly flowing out of the tank onto the ground.
Because the storage tank (and therefore the leak) happened outside, many worried that the deluge of crude oil could have negative effects on the nearby ground, air, and water supply, and therefore potentially cause public health issues, kill wildlife, or harm the environment. But as reported by local news source KHOU 11 on Wednesday, city officials stated that there is no threat to people, as the leak was contained on site.
On Thursday morning, the Texas City Facebook page shared a message from Texas City Emergency Management, which declared that 24 hours after the leak began, the crude oil tank had finally stopped leaking. That said, the surrounding road, South Loop, which shut down as soon as the leak broke out, is still closed. The post added that South Loop will stay closed for about two more days as crews continue to clean up the wreckage.
Marathon Petroleum released a statement that the company does not believe there is any risk to the community, but it is monitoring the surrounding area, cleaning up the damage, and investigating to find out the leak’s cause.
Environmental groups have varying levels of concern about the Marathon oil spill in Texas.
Anthony D’Souza of local environmental justice group Air Alliance Houston is worried about the potential effects of chemicals found in crude oil, and how they could impact the environment and locals through the air.
“Things like benzene, toluene, xylene, they’re all in the crude oil, but they evaporate really quickly, and they enter the air as well,” D’Souza told KHOU 11. “So, we’re concerned. Immediately, the most concern is about those substances and how long they stay in the environment and how far they traveled, depending on the weather conditions.”
However, Bob Stokes, president of local conservation nonprofit Galveston Bay Foundation, isn’t too concerned. “These facilities are built with a series of berms and levees and gates that they can close off when there’s a spill in the interior of the facility,” Stokes said, as per KHOU 11. “They are close to the Bay … but it appears that the design of this facility is working correctly.”
As the leader of a conservation group, Stokes’ response is pretty surprising — even if the runoff from this oil spill does not directly flow into the Galveston Bay, there are still environmental risks due to the way chemicals enter the air, as D’Souza pointed out.
And while oil companies repeatedly claim that their operations are safe, the petroleum industry is a top contributor to climate change, and it poses endless health and environmental risks. Not to mention, this is the second major oil spill in the U.S. this week. Over the weekend, an offshore pipeline off the coast of California leaked 126,000 gallons of oil into the ocean and onto beaches.