Texas Legislature Could Have Prevented Major Oil Spill Near Galveston Bay With Better Storage Standards


Courtney Naquin, courtney.naquin@sierraclub.org, 512-661-1285

Texas City, Texas - Today, the Marathon Galveston Bay Refinery had a massive oil spill from one of its storage tanks. The spill spurred prolonged road closures and will require extensive clean-up in the surrounding marshlands that have been polluted with oil and associated chemicals. The oil spill occurred just a few blocks from Texas City’s local high school and near the sensitive waters of Galveston Bay.

 During both the 2019 and 2021 legislative sessions, the Texas Legislature had several opportunities to pass better above ground storage tank standards that could have prevented this spill. The Sierra Club pushed for stronger regulations but the Texas Legislature and regulatory agencies instead passed a much weaker bill, SB 900. 

“Texas’ state agencies and the Legislature have failed to take the threat of spills, fires, and collapsing storage tanks seriously even as communities have been directly impacted for years from our substandard petrochemical infrastructure,” said Cyrus Reed, the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter’s Conservation Director and head lobbyist “The inadequate bill that did pass, SB 900, delays new rule setting for above ground storage until 2023. And even then, implementing those new rules will take time. This means that communities will still be subjected to the dangers of poorly regulated storage tanks for several years.” 

 The leak is now contained but was initially uncontrolled for 4-6 hours. Texas City and refinery officials have also deployed extra air monitoring in the area to ensure that residents are not in danger of toxic air pollution. Officials are still investigating the cause of the spill and how much oil was released. 

Texas City is one of several heavily industrialized towns in the Houston metroplex that has seen decades of major petrochemical disasters. The site of today’s oil spill was formerly owned by BP. In 2005, the BP site exploded, killing 15 people and injuring 180 more. In 2016, three years after Marathon acquired the refinery from BP, a fire erupted at the facility that severely injured three workers. A slew of lawsuits against the corporation resulted in Marathon paying an $86 million settlement. 

“Residents of Texas City and the greater Houston area deserve better. Marathon and other fossil fuel corporations continue to get away with polluting our air and water while average people, especially low-income, communities of color, workers and first responders suffer the consequence of lax regulations and minimal accountability,” said Bryan Parras, Sierra Club’s Houston-based Healthy Communities Campaign Representative. “Private corporations are actively polluting our environment and public spaces that threaten our health and safety. The land, air, and water do not belong to Marathon Oil and are not collateral casualties of oil and gas corporations.” 

Marathon’s leak takes place just days after a Houston-based company, Amplify Energy Corporation, caused a major oil spill in Orange County, California, where at least 126,000 gallons of oil were spilled into coastal waters and local wetlands. Marathon has the capacity to produce over 500,000 barrels of oil a day. 

About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.