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Regulators give green light to Enterprise Products Partners’ oil port off Surfside Beach

November 22, 2022

A new kind of oil export terminal could soon float in the Gulf of Mexico near Freeport after federal regulators gave a green light to the project.

The federal Maritime Administration made a determination Monday regarding a license for the deepwater Sea Port Oil Terminal, or SPOT, proposed by pipeline giant Enterprise Products Partners.

If built, the port would be the first of several competing projects that were proposed in 2019 and designed to make loading large crude carriers more efficient and to slash oil transportation costs. Environmental advocates and nearby residents have rallied against the project, which would include a pipeline under Surfside Beach. The port would be anchored about 30 miles south of Freeport. A pipeline would move crude from Enterprise’s pipeline network in Houston to Surfside, where it would cut under the beach before heading offshore. The administration’s decision clears the way for the project to receive its license to build. 

“It is gratifying to see the Maritime Administration recognize the significant environmental and maritime safety advantages of SPOT compared to current industry practice," Enterprise said in a statement.

Traditional ports in Texas, with their shallow channels, cannot accommodate the largest carriers when fully loaded with oil. So they’re partially loaded at close-in docks and topped off in deeper waters by another vessel in an expensive process that can take as long as 10 days. SPOT and other projects like it could cut oil transportation costs in half, analysts have said. For Enterprise, the regulatory approval doesn't necessarily mean the project will be built. Where the project stands in the company’s list of priorities “depends on the environment at the time we get” the license, Enterprise CEO Jim Teague said this year, “and what kind of customer base we can get.”

Still, the regulatory approval is a blow to those who fear an oil spill. “The company claims that SPOT will be good,” said Freeport resident Gwen Jones, “but in reality, it’s a death sentence for my community. It is clear our voices are not being listened to by decisionmakers.”

There are similar projects that aim to compete with SPOT, though they lag Enterprise’s project. Phillips 66’s Bluewater project off the coast near Corpus Christi was recently set back by an environmental hurdle; Sentinel Midstream’s Texas GulfLink, off the coast of Brazoria County, also is waiting on a final environmental impact statement from the Maritime Administration, which would trigger a final round of public comment.

Energy Transfer’s Blue Marlin facility, in waters near the Texas-Louisiana border, has not been issued a draft environmental impact statement after the company submitted an application for the project in 2020.

By Amanda Drane, Houston Chronicle