The array of regulations of various state, federal, and local governmental entities can appear bewildering to those involved in responding to a major inland crude oil spill in Texas. The Brazos River crude oil spill of 1991 presents an example of a coordinated state response to an inland spill. The following review of the incident is intended to provide guidance to those who may be required to respond to a spill in the future.
When 6,200 barrels of oil spilled from a ruptured pipeline into a flooding Brazos River, the operator assumed responsibility. Since crude oil spills from a pipeline fall under Railroad Commission of Texas jurisdiction, the agency acted as lead state agency coordinating the state response to the Brazos River spill.
The lead state agency responding to a spill for the State of Texas coordinates activities by and between the federal, state, and local governmental authorities as well as the responsible party. This coordination involves all spill response activities, including safety measures, and environmental damage assessments.
As the operator attempted to place booms to contain crude oil spilling into the swollen Brazos River, federal, state and local authorities arrived on scene. These authorities represented the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Coast Guard, Texas Water Commission, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Railroad Commission, Texas Department of Public Safety, Governor's Division of Emergency Management, Texas Forest Service, and Brazos River Authority. Boom failure due to high water and rapid currents forced final boom placement 180 miles down stream at Possum Kingdom Lake, a major drinking water resource.
A command center was established by the Forest Service. The Railroad Commission used this command center to coordinate the state's response. With an active and organized responsible party, state coordination consisted of monitoring response activities, permitting waste disposal, and conducting environmental damage assessments.
As spill response activities evolved from the containment phase to the clean-up phase, state agency response action shifted toward environmental damage assessment as non-lead agencies carried out their regulatory responsibilities. The lead agency retained the coordination, financial reimbursement, and report writing responsibility for the state.
After lengthy clean-up efforts and site-by-site environmental damage assessment, the responsible party provided the lead state agency the final report outlining containment and clean-up efforts.