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Fuel spill at Hobby Airport: New documents reveal what went wrong

HOUSTON – Channel 2 Investigates has acquired documents which shed light on February's massive fuel spill at Hobby Airport.

That environmental emergency, one of the largest fuel spills in Houston history, happened in the early morning hours of Feb. 3.

More than 60,000 gallons of Jet A fuel spilled during a fuel transfer process at the "tank farm" facility at Hobby Airport, not far from the rental car lots.

Remediation is complete, but TCEQ's investigation appears to be pending.

In the meantime, email exchanges between various Houston Airport System employees and SwissPort, the operator of the tank farm, on behalf of Southwest Airlines, illustrate what went wrong: a combination of human error, equipment failure and systemic problems at the facility.

Documents obtained through an open records request show the operator on duty failed to carry out basic job functions, including "walking the facility" or monitoring the control room as the fuel transfer was taking place.

That unidentified employee was drug tested, but the results were not revealed in the documents.

An overflow alarm also failed during the incident, and an automatic shutdown sequence failed to initiate.

The investigation, which was reviewed by both city administrators, Southwest Airlines, and Swissport, also found "secondary containment valve" failed. The facility's control room was also understaffed, according to the document.