Houston Matters

Oil spill involving Houston company was ‘best case scenario’, Coast Guard says

An oil spill in Lake Charles, Louisiana happened at a facility managed by a Houston-based company. Those on the scene say the spill was small and could have been a lot worse.

 

Lucio Vasquez/Houston Public Media
FILE: About 630 gallons of crude oil has leaked into Tabbs Bay, located near Baytown. Taken on February 3, 2020. In late November 2022, Houston-based company Martin Energy Services experienced an oil leak which resulted in a cleanup.

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The U.S. Coast Guard says it is still assessing an oil spill in the Calcasieu Point Landing near Lake Charles, Louisiana. The oil leak came from a storage facility managed by Houston-based Martin Energy Services. The facility apparently leaked out an estimated 3,500 gallons of used lubricant oil into an industrial canal.

Captain Nicole Rodriguez, Commanding officer of Marine Safety Unit Lake Charles spoke with Houston Matters about the spill on Thursday. She said on Monday morning the Coast Guard was notified by a local fisherman who had pulled his boat out of the boat ramp and it had oil on it.

“We quickly responded to that, along with our partner agencies that we respond with … we were able to quickly get aerial footage of what was going on in the canal and identify the source,” she said.

Martin Energy Services had a tank failure that escaped secondary containment, which is to catch oil that may leak from the tank. However, the secondary containment failed. The oil that leaked was a watery mixture of diesel oil along with lubricant oil, Rodriguez said.

“So what they store in that tank is when towboats come in and they wash out their bilges, oil leaks a little from the engine,” she said. “So all of that is put in the tank.”

Rodriguez said the spill was quickly contained and by the time they got on the scene, an oil spill response organization, E3 OMI, had deployed booms, temporary floating barriers used to contain marine spills, soaking pads and vacuums.

“Over the past couple of days, we ended up deploying about 2,500 feet of boom on the shoreline,” she said.

The Coast Guard serves as an “on-scene coordinator,” that oversees environmental response, Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said you never want oil spills, but if one were to happen, this is an example of a “best case scenario you could ask for.”

“It’s already a diluted, lighter oil, so it quickly starts to evaporate and fade,” she said.

Some oil-soaked pelicans were also reportedly rescued.

“Nine pelicans were identified and seven were captured and taken to a cleaning facility and sent to a facility in Texas for rehabilitation.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says thousands of oil spills occur every year in U.S. waters. Loren Steffy is managing director for 3o Point Strategies and a UH energy scholar. He said the economic consequences for Martin Energy could be minimal; it was a small spill, and the company is not well-known.

“This isn’t a company that has a lot of exposure; it’s not a well-known company, their name isn’t on gas pumps around Houston. And that actually works in their favor,” he said. “As long as this doesn’t become a bigger problem, they will probably be fine.”

He added that while there are thousands of spills every year, many people in the public do not know about them because they are small.

“In a way that’s a good thing,” he said. “But it is something we need to be aware of; there’s a cost of having cheap, affordable energy.”

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