DEER PARK, Texas – After more than 50 hours of fighting the massive chemical fire that broke out at the Shell Chemical Plant in Deer Park, officials said the fire was finally extinguished Sunday night.
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They added that the incident occurred in the plant’s Olefins Unit while workers were performing routine maintenance in the area.
Additionally, Shell officials said they were forced to send the excess runoff water, which was used to fight the flames into the Houston Ship Channel as part of a controlled release.
How much water are we talking about?
As much as 11,000 gallons a minute, according to Shell officials.
“We have extinguished the fire at the facility. We are continuing to use responsive measures to control the hot spots. And, as of just a little bit ago, we have closed that valve and we are not discharging [wastewater] into the ship channel at this point,” said Nathan Levin, General Manager at the Shell Chemical Plant.
Shell says that discharging has stopped now, but the question is, could the water already released pollute the ship channel, and ultimately poison sea life in Galveston Bay?
Aerial video from SKY2 shows large floating booms that Shell placed in the water to stop contamination.
The question is, will they work?
KPRC 2 asked Professor Jim Blackburn, an environmental lawyer in the civil and environmental engineering department at Rice University.
”Well, booms work for anything that’s floating on the surface of the water. So, if there is oil or floating chemicals.. yeah, that would be helpful. But many of those chemicals dissolve in water and will just move into the water and go under those booms. So, booms are effective against some things but not everything,” Blackburn said.
Right now, multiple agencies, including the EPA, Harris County Pollution Control, and the Texas Commission On Environmental Quality are taking and testing water samples at the ship channel, and they are asking Shell to do the same thing for days and weeks to come.
So, will what happened to the threatened marine life in the ship channel or oysters or shrimp further down in Galveston Bay?
Professor Blackburn says only extensive water testing will tell us.
”The big concern is really what is moving from the channel into Galveston Bay. Hopefully, it will be very diluted amounts and not very much will get to the bay. But until we see the data, we won’t know that for sure. They must continue to do testing on the water,” Blackburn said.
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PHOTOS/ VIDEOS: Black smoke, fire billow from industrial plant following explosion near Deer Park