January 25, 2010 / 3:34 AM / 8 years ago

UPDATE 1-Texas waterway remains closed after oil spill

* Channel is oil supply route for 4 refineries

* Cleanup likely “days not weeks” says Texas official (Recasts first paragraph to add percentage of U.S. capacity; adds ships waiting, quote from Texas official)

By Erwin Seba

HOUSTON, Jan 24 (Reuters) - The Sabine-Neches Waterway, that supplies oil to four Texas refineries representing 6.5 percent of U.S. capacity, remained shut on Sunday as crews cleaned up oil spilled in a ship collision Saturday.

The U.S. Coast Guard said the shipping lane would remain shut until the spill was cleaned up. On Sunday, 13 ships were waiting to exit the waterway and 13 were waiting to enter.

“We don’t have much of a timeline,” said Coast Guard Petty Officer Adam Baylor. “We’re working as quickly as possible to clean up the spill.”

The four refineries, three in Port Arthur, Texas, and one in Beaumont, Texas, have not reported any shutdowns since a gash was torn in the side of the double-hulled Eagle Otome tanker on Saturday morning by a barge.

Texas officials said the spill of 460,000 gallons of crude, or about 11,000 barrels, was the state’s biggest since 1991.

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said it was unclear exactly how long the cleanup would take. “But I think it’s a matter of days not weeks,” he said in a telephone interview.

AET Tanker Holdings, which owns the Eagle Otome tanker, is paying for the cleanup, Patterson said.

The spill triggered a voluntary evacuation recommendation to residents living near the port. Police said about 12 people evacuated on Saturday. They were all back in their homes by Sunday.

The four refineries have a combined refining capacity of 1.15 million barrels.

The 807-foot (246-meter) Eagle Otome was bound with a cargo of crude to Exxon Mobil Corp’s (XOM.N) 344,500 barrel per day (bpd) refinery in Beaumont, Exxon said.

The Beaumont refinery is the sixth-largest in the United States, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

    “We do not anticipate any impact to our operations at the Beaumont refinery,” said Exxon spokesman Kevin Allexon.

    A Valero Energy Corp (VLO.N) spokesman said the company’s 310,000 bpd Port Arthur refinery had offered emergency supplies to the clean-up crews. The plant’s operations were unaffected by the crash.

    A spokeswoman for Motiva Enterprises’ 285,000 bpd Port Arthur refinery declined to discuss refinery operations, but said the plant had supplies on hand and contingency plans in place to deal with the situation. Motiva is joint-venture between Shell Oil (RDSa.L) and Saudi Refining.

    Total SA (TOTF.PA) did not reply to messages on Sunday. The company has a 232,000 bpd refinery in Port Arthur.

    The collision between the southbound barge and the northbound tanker occurred near the Valero refinery location, according to the Coast Guard. The Valero refinery is the furthest south of the four supplied by the waterway.

    The barge was one of two being moved by the Dixie Vengeance tug boat in the port of Port Arthur on Saturday morning when the collision occurred.

    Investigators from the Coast Guard along with the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board are probing the cause of the collision.

    The Sabine-Neches Waterway is a man-made channel that for most of its 60-mile (100-km) length runs parallel to the Sabine River, which marks the Texas-Louisiana border. (Reporting by Erwin Seba; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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