Updated: Apr 6, 2021
Endangered whooping cranes are among the many species threatened by crude oil loading facility and desal plant.
Whooping cranes and their primary food source, blue crabs, are among the thousands of species of fish, waterfowl, shorebirds, songbirds, invertebrates, and native mammals that will take a hit if supertanker loading docks and a desalination plant are built on Harbor Island. The Port of Corpus Christi and its partners are pushing for an interrelated group of projects that could not only be devastating to Gulf Coast bays and estuaries, but also heavily impact the tourism economy of a multicounty region. The Port of CC and its partners have applied for state and federal permits to:
Dredge nearly 13 miles of the Corpus Christi Ship Channel to a depth of 80 feet, to accommodate Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs), the largest oil tankers in the world;
Build a $1 billion crude oil loading facility for the VLCC’s;
Construct a desalination plant that would discharge hyper-salty water into a fragile bay habitat;
Add multiple pipelines, oil storage tanks, and other equipment and facilities.
These projects are proposed on Harbor Island, located in the bay between the Texas coast and Mustang Island, within the city limits of Port Aransas and inside the boundaries of the Redfish Bay State Scientific Area.
A SINGLE OIL SPILL would be devastating to fish and wildlife habitats all along this stretch of coast, including numerous nearby protected areas: Mustang Island State Park, Padre Island National Seashore, Port Aransas Nature Preserve, the Lighthouse Lakes Paddling Trail, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, the Mission Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve, and various smaller parks and preserves in the area.
EVEN IF NO SPILL OCCURRED, the impacts of these combined projects would be enormous:
Increased water turbidity due to dredging;
Brine disposal altering natural water salinity;
Destruction of native wildlife habitats;
Sediment suspension and shore erosion from the significant wakes of huge supertankers;
Disposal of dredge spoil;
Reduced air quality;
Disruption of wildlife movement patterns, including the endangered whooping crane.
The International Crane Foundation has documented whooping crane use of areas that would be directly impacted by an oil spill in the ship channel or bay. The brine discharged from the desalination plant would alter salinity in waters used by blue crab larvae, reducing the cranes’ No. 1 food source.
The Port of CC and its partners are seeking permits separately for each piece of the overall development, which to some degree obscures the dramatic cumulative impacts that these projects together would cause. In truth, the projects are inter-related and the partners are under common ownership. And that’s just the beginning. Other projects are being talked about for the area, including a loading facility near Ingleside, two new plastics plants, and at least four desalination facilities to support industrial activities and expand Corpus Christi’s future water supplies. If the projects are not stopped outright, or designed to minimize environmental impact, the likelihood is great that there will be tremendous injury to the ecosystem of an area beloved by many Texans and out-of-state visitors.
THERE IS A SIMPLE SOLUTION! TAKE IT OFFSHORE!
The Texas Coastal Coalition, comprised of conservation groups and other concerned citizens along the coast, have joined together to oppose the current proposals while supporting the safer option of piping the hypersaline brine from the desalination plant miles out into the Gulf and moving the other projects offshore. This simple change would solve the bulk of the environmental and economic problems that stem from developing it on Harbor Island. No further dredging would be needed, the risk of hypersaline brine in the much fresher water of the bay and estuaries would be avoided, and the pristine ecosystems of the bay between the mainland and Mustang Island could continue to thrive.
For example, the Bluewater Texas Terminal (BWTX) project, proposed by Phillips 66 and Trafigura, would be an oil terminal 21 miles offshore. No dredging would be necessary, and the tankers would remain far away from the sensitive bays and estuaries around Port Aransas.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: The Texas Coastal Coalition sends out periodic take-action updates, when citizens have an opportunity to provide input. You can sign up for these updates at https://texascoastalcoalition.com/take-action/