Study says Trafigura project is safe, Port of Corpus Christi disagrees
A study commissioned by King Ranch Inc. claims that projects like the one proposed by a Switzerland-based international commodities company off the Padre Island National Seashore are "safe and effective."
The study examined the single point mooring systems, which is what Trafigura's Texas Gulf Terminals project plans to implement, in terms of their use to load and offload crude oil. A single point mooring system is essentially a buoy anchored offshore, where a tanker can connect to load and offload liquid products.
Trafigura's project, located in Kleberg County off the Padre Island National Seashore, would use a version of this system. The project would rely on pipeline infrastructure that would run across the King Ranch, which has expressed support for the project, and Kleberg County.
“As we have evaluated deepening our partnership with Texas Gulf Terminals, preserving the environment in the Coastal Bend region and ensuring the safety of the men and women who will be transporting oil has always been our top priority,” said King Ranch CEO Robert Underbrink. “This independent analysis provides us with sufficient assurance that SPMs are the right technology to deploy along the Texas Gulf Coast to enhance America’s global energy leadership.”
The Texas Gulf Terminals Project was announced in August as a way to fully load Very Large Crude Carriers — capable of carrying up to 2 million barrels of crude — in the Gulf of Mexico, outside the Port of Corpus Christi. The port has opposed the project, as have elected officials in San Patricio County, Corpus Christi and Nueces County, citing environmental concerns.
The study released on May 29 said that for nearly 60 years, more than 600 single-point mooring systems have been built around the world, and operated "safely and effectively." Sixteen of those projects are located in the United States, the closest being the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port about 16 mills southeast of Port Fourchon.
The study does not provide specific figures on how many oil spills had occurred over the 60-year time frame, though. James Blackburn Jr., with the law firm of Blackburn & Carter, would only say on Tuesday that there were no major incidents that had occurred at single point mooring systems, just "minor" events.
Blackburn & Carter commissioned the study on behalf of King Ranch, the release states. Trafigura's project is still undergoing a review by the federal government as the company works to obtain a permit for construction.
The Port of Corpus Christi has its own competing project planned for land it owns at Harbor Island in Port Aransas. That marine storage terminal is planned as part of a partnership with The Carlyle Group and its joint venture, Lone Star Ports LLC, in order to fully load VLCCs near the entrance to the Corpus Christi Ship Channel.
That Harbor Island project has drawn opposition from residents in Port Aransas who worry about the environmental impact it could have on the area's marine life. Those residents support Trafigura's project and others like it as a way to ensure the marine environment Port Aransas relies on for its tourism industry and way of life is not negatively impacted.
But the Port of Corpus Christi has argued that the Trafigura project presents its own environmental risks, particularly since it is out in the Gulf of Mexico, near the Padre Island National Seashore. An oil spill, port officials have said, would have a greater likelihood of spreading over a wider area out in the gulf, as opposed to a terminal in the ship channel.
"We're not against single-point mooring systems — we're just against that one for the location," said Port CEO Sean Strawbridge on May 29. "It's too much risk. If there is an event, it would have catastrophic impacts to the national seashore (and) the Laguna Madre."
"From an air quality standpoint — it certainly threatens our air shed — we just think it is not a good location," he added.
Tim Acosta covers the Port of Corpus Christi, county and city government stories for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Consider supporting local journalism with a digital subscription to the Caller-Times.