TX - Department of Transportation marks the SPOT: Oil project set for Gulf exports clears Federal Hurdle

SURFSIDE BEACH — The Maritime Administration approved the Sea Port Oil Terminal project that’s been under the scrutiny of the Department of Transportation in a 94-page decision quietly released before the Thanksgiving holiday.

The SPOT project would expand an Enterprise-operated offshore terminal and be connected to a new 140-acre facility near Freeport, running two 36-inch underground pipes through the town of Surfside Beach and into the Gulf of Mexico in order to supply large tankers with crude oil.

The terminal is designed for export, despite the United States currently importing an estimated 3 billion barrels of oil in 2021, according to the Energy Information Administration. The company has been eager to use what it sees as a head start in the approval process now that export prices have risen following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and other companies look to produce similar operations.

Enterprise had first applied for the approval in January of 2019. While SPOT is not yet a done deal, it means a major hurdle has been cleared for its forward momentum. The approval does have the condition that it get a Deep Water Port Act license.

“At first I was very disappointed when I heard that,” Melanie Oldham, founder and member of Citizens for Clean Air and Clean Water of Freeport and Brazoria County, said about the approval. The group has been organizing opposition to what they see as issues with the SPOT project for some time.

“But then, during the week right after the holiday, I read through the decision and basically MARAD gave a record of decision, but they have not given the license to the SPOT project,” Oldham said. “There’s a multitude of conditions — some from EPA, some from Texas Parks and Wildlife — each agency has specific conditions that they have to meet before they get their license.”

She also says that according to the American Shipping Bureau, some new regulations affecting deep water ports that go into effect in 2023 may cause the company to have to make changes.

One person who has shown support for the project has been House Representative Republican Randy Weber of the Fourteenth District, who was positive regarding the move from the Biden Administration.

“We can produce oil cleaner and more efficiently than any other nation in the world, and the SPOT project will add 2 million barrels per day to the U.S. oil export capacity. This project is a huge win for American energy and allows for increased oil production right here in Texas. I am proud that Texas’ Fourteenth District continues to be the nation’s energy powerhouse,” Weber said in a statement to The Facts.

Because of the potential impact on the residents and tourists that flock to the barrier island, the Surfside Beach City Council has been attempting to put together a sit-down with Enterprise, local officials and residents, some of whom have been outspoken on the effect an ecological disaster could have on their town, especially given the importance of the island to some endangered species, such as sea turtles.

They have been looking for reassurances that the company will be responsible in preventing issues from happening in the first place as well as in their financial and community obligations should a problem arise, Surfside Mayor Gregg Bisso said.

However, he says that Enterprise has been less forthcoming in recent months, in his opinion, to the detriment of their relationship with the city.

“We are still going to do everything we can to ensure the safety of our island and our tourist industry and our wildlife,” Bisso said. “The last thing we would want to see is that pipeline go in without any guarantees that they’re going to have funds there to make corrections if there are any problems.”

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