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Texas Tank Fire Could Boost Scrutiny For Proposed Oil Storage

The fire at a petrochemical storage site at Deer Park, Texas, which blazed for days and halted some ship traffic at the Houston port, has intensified calls for increased scrutiny of oil and fuel storage facilities, potentially requiring tougher regulations for many proposed oil storage terminals along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

A fire at the Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC) that started on Sunday, March 17, continued until Wednesday and prompted many state agencies to start looking into the reasons of the incident. Residents of Deer Park and Galena Park were told twice last week to stay indoors, and schools canceled classes for several days.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed on Friday an environmental lawsuit against ITC seeking injunctive relief and civil penalties in connection with the fire at the petrochemical site.

“The state of Texas works hard to maintain good air quality and will hold ITC accountable for the damage it has done to our environment,” Attorney General Paxton said. “ITC has a history of environmental violations, and this latest incident is especially disturbing and frightening. No company can be allowed to disrupt lives and put public health and safety at risk,” he added.

The federal Chemical Safety Board said last week that it would investigate the fire, which engulfed 11 above-ground storage tanks.

Investigations and reviews of the investigations could result in proposals for increased environmental scrutiny for many future storage facilities that are planned to accommodate the growing U.S. oil production for exports.

Harris County in Texas, the site of the ITC fire, plans to review the investigations and could propose amendments to state regulations, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo told Reuters. 

“State lawmakers have a role here, too. They can make risk management plans readily available so emergency responders and the public have specific information on potential hazards at chemical facilities. Right now, they are difficult to obtain in the state of Texas,” Elena Craft, senior director for health and climate at Environmental Defense Fund, wrote in an op-ed in Houston Chronicle last week.

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“They can close the loophole that allows industry to avoid penalties for unauthorized pollution releases,” Craft said.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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