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A Fossil Fuel Company Wants to Dig Up a Superfund Site in Texas. What Could Go Wrong?

A proposed Army Corps of Engineers project to deepen and widen the Matagorda Bay shipping channel in Texas is a bad means to an even worse end. The 27-mile-long project would stir up toxic mercury from a Superfund site and imperil the livelihoods of local people working in the fishing, oyster, and shrimp business. And when completed, it would boost exports of dirty fossil fuels by allowing huge oil tankers to pass into the Gulf of Mexico.

The project is a fitting symbol of the modern fossil fuel industry, which reliably finds an astoundingly large number of different ways to pollute to pad its profits. On May 25, a coalition of Gulf and environmental groups represented by Earthjustice filed suit to halt the project, and now the Army Corps of Engineers says it will delay seeking bids until at least December 2023. While the delay is welcome news, we urge the Army Corps to permanently cancel this misguided effort.

Proposed plan is a major boost for fossil fuel exports

  • The dredging project would allow for the development of a new oil export terminal with a capacity of 20 million barrels of oil monthly.
  • When completed, the project would make it possible for “Suezmax”-size oil tankers, which are as long as football fields and can carry about 1 million barrels of oil, to enter the Gulf of Mexico.
  • At a critical moment for our climate, this project digs us further in a hole by supporting more fossil fuel development – and more climate pollution.

Industrial waste and fishing industry don’t mix

  • The project’s most immediate threat to the environment comes from its disturbance of an EPA Superfund site contaminated by mercury from an Alcoa aluminum smelting plant.
  • The project would remove 21 million cubic yards of sediment, unearthing and scattering mercury-laden waste and burying important commercial fish and oyster habitats.

The Biden administration must conduct a full environmental review

  • Under the National Environmental Policy Act, the project should not proceed without a thorough environmental analysis from the Army Corps that fully discloses the risks of oil spills, the impacts of mercury contamination, and the climate consequences of more fossil fuel development.
  • But such an analysis was never done. Since the Corps’ initial environmental review for the project in 2019, new information has raised the alarm of risks of from increased greenhouse gas emissions, mercury contamination, and impacts on the lives and livelihoods of people working in the fishing industry.

The fossil fuel industry’s many-headed threat

  • The proposed Matagorda Bay project is representative of the complex threat that the oil, coal, and gas industries pose to communities and the planet. These industries are responsible for biodiversity loss, the climate crisis, hazardous waste, and threats to public health.
  • The Earthjustice suit to halt the project is part of an ongoing strategy, undertaken with the support of a broad coalition of diverse groups, to challenge fossil fuels at every stage of their life cycle. That means halting lease sales, blocking pipelines and export terminals, and advocating for stronger emissions and waste standards.

To protect communities and the planet, we must stop fossil fuels at every stage. The Gulf is under threat from the oil industry’s efforts to carve up our public lands and waters for drilling. Urge the Biden administration to stop allowing new fossil fuel development on the lands it stewards for all of us:

The sun rises over Matagorda Bay in Texas.

The sun rises over Matagorda Bay in Texas.

ImageTek / CC BY 2.0