The company that owns a petrochemicals shipping terminal in Deer Park, Texas, which was the site of a serious fire in March 2019, will pay the state of Texas and the US government over $6.6 million (£5.2 million) to resolve claims for environmental damage caused by the incident. While no injuries or fatalities resulted, the fire saw multiple storage tanks of naphtha and xylenes burn for several days before the flames were brought under control. The compensation paid by the Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC) will be used to compensate the public for the impacts on natural resources caused by the release of hazardous chemicals from the facility as well as government agency costs.

‘I’m pleased we were able to secure this natural resource damages settlement after the serious destruction caused by the fire at Deer Park. This fire burned for three days, spewing hazardous chemicals into our air, water, and land,’ stated Texas Attorney General Paxton. Texas’s environmental enforcement suit against ITC – a terminal services company headquartered in Deer Park that develops, operates and owns bulk liquid storage and infrastructure assets – is still pending, Paxton added. He warned that all companies operating in the state ‘must take the utmost precaution to prevent any such disaster from harming our citizens and our environment’.

‘The 2019 fire at ITC’s Deer Park facility released a significant amount of hazardous substances that injured the Houston Ship Channel,’ stated assistant Attorney General Todd Kim from the Department of Justice’s environment and natural resources division. ‘Today’s settlement will enable restoration work to improve the environment in the channel and other affected waterways in the area and to enhance recreational opportunities for Texas residents and visitors.’

Natural resource trustees determined that the hazardous substances released caused significant impact to ecological resources and habitats, including marsh and riparian areas, as well as to birds. The incident also affected recreational activities, with multiple shoreline parks temporarily closed and ferry services suspended.

Petrochemical fire at the Intercontinental Terminals Company in Deer Park, Texas

Source: © Associated Press/Alamy Stock Photo

The fire at the petrochemicals shipping terminal in the Greater Houston metropolitan area raged for several days

The ITC settlement money will be used to implement natural resource restoration projects and other environmental restitution activities. The company previously paid about $1 million to reimburse federal and state trustees for their prior assessment costs.

The ITC Deer Park terminal housed over 240 tanks that were used to store petrochemical liquids and gases, fuel oil, bunker oil, and distillates. An investigation by the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) in July 2023 determined that the Deer Park incident, which caused over $150 million of damage to the facility, could have been prevented if proper safeguards had been in place.

In its final report, the CSB concluded that the fire was caused by several safety shortcomings at the ITC facility, including the absence of a formal mechanical procedure to maintain the integrity of the tank that first ignited and its associated equipment. The incident was exacerbated by the lack of a flammable gas detection system to warn personnel of an original gas leak at the tank that continued undetected for 30 minutes before the vapours ignited, the agency said.