Update: Water contaminated by Shell chemical fire runoff no longer flows into the Houston Ship Channel

Shell wants nearby residents to know they could see flames and black smoke and hear loud noises from the facility as firefighting efforts continue.

After on-site wastewater basins filled up over the weekend, Shell dumped up to 11,000 gallons per minute into the vessel’s channel.

Boom barriers have been installed around the contaminated water, according to officials with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

After reigniting on Saturday, the fire is out, Shell said at a news conference.

TCEQ said it is still monitoring air quality and that no harmful levels of chemicals affecting nearby communities have been detected.

Shell wants nearby residents to know that they could see flames and black smoke and hear loud noises from the facility on Monday as firefighting efforts continue.

Environmental impact

While there was no potential contamination of the drinking water, Jim Blackburn, an environmental lawyer who teaches civil engineering at Rice University, said the runoff would impact Galveston Bay’s wildlife and seafood.

“I don’t think there is any doubt that there will be pollutants in the water. We don’t have enough information at this point to know what types of chemicals are involved,” Blackburn said on Sunday. “I think the issue is the environmental impact on the shipping channel itself, and specifically Galveston Bay, which is one of the most important fisheries in the United States.”

Bob Stokes, president of the Galveston Bay Foundation, said he was pleased to learn that the foam used to fight this fire is more environmentally friendly than substances used in the past.

“And we will have the ability to assess with public agencies, TCEQ, any potential offsite impacts and then, if these impacts occur, to mitigate them and ideally ensure that this doesn’t happen again,” Stokes said.

What happened

Nine contractors were released from hospital Friday night after Shell Deer Park Chemicals said it was exposed to a product during a major plant fire.

No serious injuries were reported.

Shell released a statement at around 9.20pm on Friday, saying the fire started around 3pm while routine maintenance was underway on the Olefins unit.

The fire at the chemical plant reignited Saturday afternoon after being put out and continued to burn into Sunday night. In a tweet, Shell Deer Park said the fire “has been contained to a controlled area”.

What’s next?

Remediation and the investigation of the cause and response are now the focus.

“These types of accidents are unfortunate. You know, we never want to see them and we take it very seriously and will investigate it,” TCEQ Deputy Director Kelly Cook said on Monday.

Harris County Fire Marshal Captain James Singleton said his office is also investigating the incident, but it could take some time to get answers.

“You’re looking at a large number of people who need to be interviewed,” Singleton said. “Everyone who was in the unit at the time of the fire, controllers, management, anyone who called 911.”

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