Port of Houston: Barbour's Cut Terminal may reopen tomorrow morning

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Barbour’s Cut Container Terminal will attempt to reopen at 10 a.m. tomorrow after having been shut down since Monday because of a chemical spill in the Houston Ship Channel.

According to an email sent by the Port of Houston Authority to OOIDA on Wednesday, the area remains under restriction and no personnel are permitted to enter while authorities attempt to remove two vessels that collided Monday in an adjacent shipping channel. The incident has disrupted activity at one of the world’s busiest ports by cargo tonnage.

The Port Authority announced Wednesday that although Barbour’s Cut Container Terminal remains closed, all other terminals are open and operating under usual business hours.

The initial spill following the collision on Monday resulted in a shelter-in-place procedure for truckers and other personnel at the port yesterday. The crash and spill shut down all port operations for Monday.

The spill occurred following a crash between the tanker Carla Maersk and a Liberian bulk carrier, the Conti Peridot. The Venezuela-bound Carla Maersk was reportedly carrying about 216,000 barrels of MTBE, a chemical additive found in gasoline. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether, is a chemical compound used almost exclusively as a fuel additive in gasoline.

In 2005, following passage of the Energy Policy Act and a renewable fuel standard by Congress, refiners removed MTBE from American fuels and began blending with ethanol. The agency’s website states that the compound’s primary health risks for humans involve inhaling vapors, high concentrations of which produced cancer in some research animals. In addition, low levels of MTBE can contaminate groundwater supplies, rendering them undrinkable because of the compound’s offensive taste and odor.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Vessel Traffic Service at the port has closed the shipping channel from Light 86 to the Fred Hartman Bridge, and a safety zone has been declared in the same area, according to another email Land Line received from Danny Schnautz with Clark Freight, a motor carrier that works in the Houston ports.

The email states that the U.S. Coast Guard was able to clear movement for the Conti Peridot, however the Carla Maersk is “still an extreme channel hazard and there are absolutely no vessel movements currently scheduled through the safety zones.” 

The email states that the Carla Maersk remains “a serious safety concern” as MTBE vapors continue to seep out of a 31-meter gash in the hull. A survey of the damaged hull is expected to begin Thursday morning at the earliest.

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