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Exemplary Hurricane Damage Cleanup Earns Petroleum Reserve Coveted Environmental Award

April 22, 2010 - 1:00pm


Washington, DC - An exceptional waste management project at a Texas Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) site following Hurricane Ike in 2008 has won a DOE Environmental Sustainability (EStar) Award for Waste/Pollution Prevention.

The award recognizes the SPR Storm Recovery Debris Waste Management Project at the Big Hill storage complex near Beaumont, Texas, which was heavily impacted by Hurricane Ike in September 2008. Selected annually by an independent panel of judges, EStar awards recognize environmental sustainability projects and programs that reduce risks and impacts, protect natural resources, enhance site operations, and reduce costs.

Hurricane Ike was the third most destructive hurricane to ever make landfall in the United States, causing an estimated $31.5 billion in damage. Following the hurricane, SPR personnel evaluated the damage and established a cleanup and recovery plan that would maximize waste diversion opportunities. Although there were no oil spills or leaks resulting from the storm, the enormous storm surge had accumulated massive volumes of marsh grass and cane along Big Hill's perimeter and interior fences, as well as numerous animal carcasses throughout the site.

Additionally, numerous surviving cattle were starving and unable to locate drinking water. Several orphaned chemical drums, household appliances, and construction materials were washed onto the site and--further exacerbating an already overwhelming situation--personnel had to be wary of encountering both the snakes that inhabited the mounds of vegetative debris found throughout the site as well as surviving alligators that roamed free.

The SPR waste management team worked closely with federal and state agencies to obtain necessary support and authorities for cleanup activities, disposal of debris and animal carcasses, and disposition of surviving animals. The team prioritized searching for opportunities to recycle or reuse matter before rendering waste to landfills.

Large amounts of fencing were salvaged by removing some 10,000 cubic yards of vegetative debris that had become entwined in the chain link. Rather than truck the debris to a landfill, site personnel successfully located a land-farming opportunity to till the material into a designated off-site location for its beneficial use to the soil. Debris was staged in various locations awaiting removal while disposal options were explored.

In total, SPR found beneficial use for 6.6 million pounds of the 8.4 million pounds of storm debris at Big Hill. SPR credits its strong, pro-active environmental culture with its ability to quickly identify waste diversion opportunities and carry out the plans.

The Big Hill site is one of four deep underground SPR storage complexes and has a capacity of 171 million barrels. Other SPR sites include Bryan Mound, located near Freeport, Texas, (254 million barrels); West Hackberry, LA, (228 million barrels) and Bayou Choctaw, LA (74 million barrels). SPR provides the nation with an emergency supply of petroleum in the event of a disruption in commercial supplies that threatens the U.S. economy. It is currently at full capacity holding 727 million barrels of oil.