Environmental Groups Challenge Texas’ Sea Port Oil Terminal in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals

By May 11, 2023May 25th, 2023Gulf of Mexico, News Releases

For Immediate Release: May 11, 2023

Contacts: Joanie Steinhaus, joanie@tirn.net

 Environmental Groups Challenge Texas’ Sea Port Oil Terminal in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals

Brazoria County, Texas – Yesterday, Better Brazoria (formerly Citizens for Clean Air & Clean Water in Brazoria County and represented by Lone Star Legal Aid), Texas Campaign for the Environment (represented by Earthjustice), Turtle Island Restoration Network, Sierra Club, and Center for Biological Diversity, filed an opening brief in their federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeals case challenging the Sea Port Oil Terminal (SPOT) crude export facility sited 30 miles off the coast of Brazoria County, Texas in the Gulf of Mexico. SPOT, which is owned by midstream Canadian oil company Enterprise Products Operating LLC, proposes to export two-million barrels of crude oil per day, representing yearly exports equivalent to 18 percent of annual domestic oil production that could increase U.S. oil export volumes by as much as two-thirds. This facility would induce decades of additional domestic oil production for global consumption at a time when our nation and the world have committed to aggressively reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel dependence to avert climate disaster.

The environmental groups’ brief describes the legally flawed deepwater port license issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration. The license decision violates the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to analyze the range of probable oil spills, as well as a worst-case spill disaster, resulting from SPOT during its thirty-year operation. These spills could lead to devastating harm to several species of endangered and threatened sea turtles, and extinction-level consequences for the critically endangered Rice’s whale, which has a remaining population of less than 50 individuals exclusively inhabiting Gulf waters. The agencies also neglected to analyze the public health impacts of SPOT’s ozone pollution emissions on the region’s existing unhealthy air quality. During the agency’s nearly four-year review of SPOT’s license application, the region’s air quality worsened and the federal government reclassified the area as “severe nonattainment” for ozone. But the licensing decision failed to evaluate or inform the public about how SPOT’s additional pollution would worsen conditions for nearby Black, brown, and low-income Brazoria County communities, already overburdened by petrochemical industry pollution.

The licensing decision also violates Deepwater Port Act requirements to complete licensing review in less than one year, ensuring that SPOT is prepared and has the financial wherewithal to handle the potentially catastrophic environmental consequences of operating a massive fossil fuel export facility, which, in addition to the deepwater terminal, encompasses more than 140 miles of onshore and seabed pipelines and other oil processing infrastructure. Further, the agency’s decision failed to provide any support that licensing the export of a massive portion of American oil reserves is consistent with the national interest in ensuring current and future domestic energy sufficiency.

“Our community is already being forced to breathe in toxic air, and our cancer rates for seven types of cancers are higher than the state average. Brazoria County is in severe non-attainment by the EPA for ozone, and the American Lung Association gives the County a failing grade for air quality. We have made it clear time and time again to the EPA, the Maritime Administration, and all the bad actors pushing these projects, that they are overburdening our community with the fossil fuel industry buildout, and SPOT will make the situation worse for us,” said Melanie Oldham with Better Brazoria. “The legal briefing that the coalition of attorneys filed on behalf of our community and the environment lays out all the problems with the SPOT project, from potential oil spill disasters to climate change destruction.”

“Our community, Brazoria County, is majority Black and brown families already suffering from cancer clusters and respiratory health problems caused by the fossil fuel industry. We cannot take another oil facility like SPOT and GulfLink coming in here and dumping more pollution like ozone and particulates into my community,” said Gwen Jones with Better Brazoria. “The companies, Enbridge and Enterprise, cannot be trusted to build anything– they have a history of negligence, leaks, and explosions. The Biden Administration needs to take action now to stop these polluting projects that are harming our communities that continue to face environmental racism from LNG, oil exports, and all the many other toxic industries here.”

“SPOT poses a massive threat to local communities and global climate. The Maritime Administration’s licensing decision ignored evidence of significant environmental and public health risk to frontline communities, Gulf ecosystems and species,” stated Sierra Club Senior Attorney Devorah Ancel. “SPOT will shift oil consumption abroad, and induce decades of additional oil production, fossil fuel dependence, and greenhouse gas pollution that will worsen the climate crisis. Our legal challenge to the Maritime Administration’s flawed decision to license SPOT aims to ensure the agency puts communities and climate first.”

“The fact we had to file this lawsuit is yet another indication of this Administration’s abject failures on climate and environmental justice. While President Biden and Secretary Pete crow about their climate cred, communities on the ground will suffer the consequences of these poor permitting decisions,” said Trevor Carroll, Brazoria County Fossil Fuel Exports Organizer with Texas Campaign for the Environment. “All over the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast, real people’s lives and futures are being sacrificed for the sake of multibillion dollar oil and gas corporations like Enterprise and Enbridge. It’s past time for Biden to stop sentencing the Gulf South.”

“Approving the SPOT oil terminal leaves a huge stain on the Biden administration’s climate and environmental justice record,” said Lauren Parker, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “People living near the proposed facility are already severely overburdened by fossil fuel infrastructure, and the federal government ignored this terminal’s clear threats to the health, safety and sustainability of frontline communities. Export terminals in the Gulf also create huge risks for endangered species like the Rice’s whale. Letting this massively polluting project go forward harms biodiversity and our ability to address the climate emergency and achieve environmental justice.”

“The SPOT project would lock-in fossil fuel dependence for decades to come at the expense of frontline communities already suffering from some of the most extreme climate change events to date. SPOT is simply not in the national interest”, said Joanie Steinhaus, Gulf Program Director for Turtle Island Restoration Network. “As climate change continues to wreak havoc on our coastal communities, it is irresponsible to consider exponentially expanding fossil fuel extraction endeavors in the Gulf without conducting a thorough analysis of this project in combination with the other proposed fossil fuel development in the Gulf of Mexico and disclosing the full scope of impacts on the region”.


Turtle Island Restoration Network is a global ocean conservation nonprofit with offices in California and Texas whose mission is to inspire and mobilize people around the world to protect marine biodiversity and the oceans that sustain all life on Earth.