Chevron to Restore Coastal Wetlands at Port Arthur Refinery

PORT ARTHUR, Texas, January 17, 2005 (ENS) - Three Chevron companies have agreed to clean up and restore lands and waters around the company's former refinery at Port Arthur, Texas contaminated with petroleum products and heavy metals from more than a century of refinery operations. A settlement between Chevron, the U.S. Justice Department and the Texas Attorney General and other state and federal was filed Thursday in federal district court.

The environmental restoration is related to historic operations at the former Gulf Port Arthur Refinery on the Gulf of Mexico 90 miles east of Houston. The refinery was built by Gulf Oil Co. in 1901 and was operated by Gulf until it was acquired by Chevron in 1985. At that time, Chevron assumed the refinery's historical environmental responsibilities. The refinery was later sold to Premcor, the current refinery operator.

Operations at the refinery have included crude oil refining, lubricant oil and chemical manufacturing, and product distribution.


Refineries at sunset, Port Arthur, Texas. (Photo courtesy Port Arthur Home Health Service)
As a result of these activities, the refinery and adjacent land and waterways have been contaminated with oil, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and hazardous substances, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), lead, and chromium.

Under the terms of the settlement, Chevron U.S.A. Inc. will be primarily responsible for undertaking a variety of restoration actions to compensate for natural resource losses resulting from contamination at the refinery.

Chevron will construct and plant at least 85 acres of estuarine marsh and 30 acres of wet prairie and will construct water control structures to enhance nearly 1,600 acres of coastal wet prairie near Port Arthur.

Chevron also will pay costs incurred by the governmental agencies in evaluating the natural resource damages resulting from the contamination at the refinery and in determining appropriate restoration actions.

“Today's settlement is crucial because it provides much-needed relief for the habitat harmed by years of contamination,” said Thomas Sansonetti, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. “It is also important because it ensures that this coastal wetland will be preserved to the future benefit of the ecosystem of Port Arthur.”

"This is an excellent example of industry and government working cooperatively to resolve the historical environmental issues associated with the refinery," said Daniel Rocha, president of Chevron Environmental Management Company, "This cooperative effort will result in ecological restoration projects that are beneficial to both the environment and general public and are specifically tailored to address the needs of the wildlife and people within the Neches River Coastal Watershed."

Under the consent decree, Chevron will offset the ecological degradation at the refinery and its surroundings. Birds and wildlife at the refinery have been injured and the settlement addresses injuries to habitats outside of the refinery, including lakes, marshes, and grasslands.

“America's coastal wetlands are being lost at an alarming rate,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southwest Regional Director H. Dale Hall. “This cooperative settlement between Chevron and the government is one key step in restoring wetlands that are vital to the preservation and enhancement of migratory waterfowl and endangered species.”

"The most extensive loss of coastal wetlands in Texas has occurred along the lower Neches River," said project manager Peter Samuels, lead ecologist, Energy and Technology Company, Chevron USA. "These restoration projects were developed to help alleviate that loss.

Port Arthur

Coastal wetlands of the Lower Neches River near Port Arthur (Photo by Marge Beaver courtesy NOAA)
Samuels said the restoration work involves the use of an innovative wetland construction technique developed during the cooperative planning efforts between ChevronTexaco and the state and federal agencies overseeing the cleanup and restoration.

"The proposal is to use dredge material to create marsh wetlands and convert the elevated dredge landscape back into a more productive and natural native wet prairie," explained Larry McKinney, Ph.D., Texas Parks and Wildlife Department coastal fisheries director.

"Since oil and gas drilling and other human development has affected our bays and wetlands along the Texas coast, it's appropriate to use this settlement to repair that damage," McKinney said. “This settlement is an important opportunity to take a former wetland area that has subsided and been converted into shallow water and return it to a diverse emergent wetland community, a type of vanishing habitat that is vital for waterfowl, fish and wildlife."

Over the next two years ChevronTexaco will construct over 85 acres of estuarine marsh and 30 acres of coastal wet prairie, enhancing critical ecosystems used by birds, fish and other wildlife.

The company will construct a low water control structure and multiple culverts that will be used to restore historic hydrology and reduce salinity fluctuations within the Lower Neches River Wildlife Management Area. The low level coastal plains surrounding the rivers, bayous, and shoreline has an environment attractive to migratory birds that stop over during their flight to and from South America on the Central Flyway.

Also, the company will construct water control structures and minor berms to help restore hydrology and better manage three large wetland areas in the J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area, enhancing over 1,200 acres of wetland habitat.

“America's coastal wetlands are being lost at an alarming rate,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southwest Regional Director H. Dale Hall. “This cooperative settlement between Chevron and the government is one key step in restoring wetlands that are vital to the preservation and enhancement of migratory waterfowl and endangered species.”

Chevron will act in cooperation with and under the oversight of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and the Texas General Land Office in carrying out these projects under the settlement.

The United States will receive public comment on the proposed settlement for a period of 30 days after notice is published in the Federal Register. Comments should be directed to: the Assistant Attorney General, Environment and Natural Resources Division, P.O. Box 7611, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C. 20044-7611. The settlement agreement will take effect upon signature and entry by the U. S. District Court judge, after any comments received have been considered.