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Crude Oil Spill in Texas

Crude Oil Spill in Texas
The oil tanker Eagle Otome, left, sits docked at the Port of Port Arthur after it collided with a vessel towing barges Saturday.

Collision Causes Crude Oil Spill in Texas.

HOUSTON?A collision between an oil tanker bound for Exxon Mobil Corp.'s Beaumont refinery and an outbound vessel towing barges resulted in a major crude-oil spill in the port of Port Arthur, Texas on Saturday.

The U.S. Coast Guard says about 450,000 gallons of crude oil has spilled into the Port of Port Arthur area in southeast Texas after two vessels collided.

The U.S. Coast Guard said that the towing vessel and the two barges it was pushing tore a hole on the side of the 807-foot tanker Eagle Otome at about 9:30 a.m. CST, spilling an estimated 450,000 gallons of crude oil, or about 11,000 barrels. The Sabine Neches Waterway is closed to all vessel traffic along Port Arthur's river front, the Coast Guard said in a news release.

The Coast Guard said early Sunday that the oil spill had been contained to a two-mile area, according to the Associated Press. Coast Guard Capt. J.J. Plunkett said initial reports indicated none of the oil in the Texas spill had affected area marshes or hurt any local wildlife. He said officials believed the oil spill was "pretty much contained' in a stretch of the Sabine Neches Waterway, where the spill took place and that runs along the city of Port Arthur. Capt. Plunkett said the cleanup effort was expected to last at least through Sunday.

An Exxon Mobil spokesman said in an email that the incident involved vessels chartered by Exxon Mobil subsidiary companies, and that the amount of oil that spilled from the Eagle Otome was "undetermined. "The vessels involved are reported to be in stable condition," spokesman Kevin Allexon said in an email to Dow Jones Newswires.

"Exxon Mobil is very concerned about this unfortunate incident. The vessels we charter to transport our products meet rigorous safety standards," the Exxon statement said. Exxon said the tanker, owned by Malaysia-based AET Incorporated Ltd., was carrying crude destined for the company's 348,500-barrels-a-day refinery in Beaumont, Texas.

The Coast Guard, which has established a perimeter around the spill, said it is investigating the causes of the accident. A U.S. Coast Guard spokesman said that the ruptured compartment in the tanker held about 80,000 barrels of crude, and the crew was able to transfer 69,000 barrels elsewhere. "This is a big one," said Petty Officer Third Class Richard Brahm.

No injuries reported among the crews of the vessels. Petty Officer Third Class Brahm said Saturday that the Port Arthur waterway was closed to traffic for the clean-up operation. He couldn't specify how long it would take for emergency crews to clean up the spill or re-open the channel, or the number of vessels waiting to come in. He said that on an average day, 150 barges and 15 tankers pass through the waterway. "It's definitely going to impact the economics around here," he said.

Port Arthur, located about 90 miles east of Houston, is home to key fuel-producing facilities such as the 275,000-barrel a day Motiva refinery, jointly owned by Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Saudi Arabian Oil Co; Total SA's 174,000 barrels a day refinery, and Valero Energy Corp.'s 310,000-barrels-a-day refinery.

Valero spokesman Bill Day said in an email that the spill is having "no impact" on the company's Port Arthur refinery. The refinery has offered emergency equipment to the U.S. Coast Guard, and is "standing by to help," Mr. Day said. Motiva and Total haven't replied to requests for comment. Exxon said it does not anticipate an impact to operations at its Beaumont refinery.

The Port Arthur spill can be described as large, according to the classification established by the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation Ltd., which tracks oil spills around the world. According to the ITOPF, large spills are those that are over 700 metric tons. The size of the Port Arthur spill is estimated at about 1,500 metric tons. The spill is the second to afflict the Texas coastline recently; in October, a supply vessel crashed against a Liberian-flagged oil tanker offshore of Galveston, resulting in an 18,000 gallon oil spill?equivalent to about 429 barrels of oil or 58 metric tons.

Exxon, the largest U.S. oil company by market capitalization, has struggled for years to dispel the shadow cast by the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989. That incident resulted in the release of nearly 11 million gallons of crude in Alaska's Prince William sound, sparked a multiyear legal battle, and cost the company about $1 billion in punitive damages plus interest.

Petty Officer Third Class Brahm said that local law enforcement had evacuated about 28 blocks surrounding the spill area due to the higher-than-normal sulfur content in the crude, but that as of Saturday evening "they've all been let back into their homes." The smell of sulfur--similar to rotten eggs--hasn't spread beyond the original perimeter, he said.


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