DEER PARK, Texas – Nearly two weeks after a massive fire broke out at the Intercontinental Terminals Co., crews are still working to mend damages caused to the facility and the community.
Officials with ITC have been giving daily updates since the fire started. In a news conference Thursday, officials from ITC, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality echoes what they have been saying since Monday.
ITC official, Brent Weber said in a news conference Thursday, crews have been able to secure all the tanks containing pygas, and the next goal is to secure the remaining tanks that contain gasoline blend and base oil.
Officials with the U.S. Coast Guard said the ship channel remains partially open to daylight traffic. However, all vessels traveling through will be visually inspected and there is no timeline to how long it will be until the ship channel resumes normal flow.
SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM OF THE ARTICLE FOR AN INTERACTIVE TIMELINE OF EVENTS
The EPA and other crews have continued monitoring air conditions after benzene was detected a few days after the fire started. According to the EPA, no significant levels of benzene or other toxic gases have been detected since.
Harris County Commissioner Precinct 2 has closed several parks with waterfronts near the ITC incident area.
• Bay Area Park in Houston (Bay Area Community Center is open)
• Clear Lake Park in Seabrook
• Sylvan Beach in La Porte
• Juan Seguin in La Porte
• Rio Villa Nature Trail
• Meadow Brook
• River Terrace
• Moncrief Park
• The Lynchburg Ferry remains closed to the public
All events at these parks are canceled until further notice.
ITC’s CEO Bernt Netland had stayed silent through most of the incident, but after multiple questions from the community asking where he was, he issued an apology on YouTube, saying in part:
"Please let me begin my remarks by expressing my apology and a collective apology of everyone at ITC for the impact caused by the terminal fire … “I pledge to you that we are making all available necessary resources to resolve this.”
When asked about Netland's response Weber defended his CEO's comments saying his boss is sincere in his apology to the community.
"My CEO has been here from the beginning of this incident, and his focus is recovering the response effort, the remediation effort and to make sure that ITC along with all of our governmental agencies partners are successful in seeing this through to completion," Weber said. "I know my CEO. I know his character. I can assure you that he's sincere, he's genuine and when he speaks, he speaks from the heart. I'm proud to work for Mr. Netland and I'm proud that he's my CEO."
According to the Harris County lawsuit, "ITC is responsible for burning and air emissions in violation of the state’s Clean Air Act, discharging industrial waste into nearby waters in violation of state law and county regulations, and violation of county floodplain regulations by not having development permits for structures at its facility."
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit Friday, March 22, for violations of the Texas Clean Air Act.
“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,” 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.”
When asked to give a comment on the lawsuits, ITC officials declined, saying they do not comment on ongoing litigation.
Check out the timeline of events below:
Captain Kevin Oditt with the Coast Guard said that cleanup efforts shifted after the wind changed.
“As the wind shifted along with the currents and tides, some pockets of oil were able to escape the booms. (Wednesday), we had to shift some boom and reassign some skimming vessels to recover that oil.”
Weber said that another 70,000 barrels of product needs to be pumped from the damaged tanks to more secure ones. “The remaining products still in the tank are gasoline blend stocks and base oil---all of the pygas has been transferred out of the tank farm,” he said.
Weber also said that he stood by Netland who spoke publicly for the first time after the fire in a YouTube message.
“I’ll tell you this, my CEO has been here from the beginning of this incident and his focus is recovering the response effort and remediation effort and to make sure that TIC, along with governmental agencies, are successful and see this through completion. I know my CEO, I know his character, I can assure he is sincere he is genuine and when he speaks. He speaks from the heart. I'm proud to work for Mr. Netland and I'm proud he's my CEO.”