New York / Houston:
America’s largest oil refiners this week released tons of air pollutants into the skies over Texas, figures provided to the state show, as one environmental crisis sparked another.
Refiners and petrochemical plants along the US Gulf Coast scrambled to halt production as a mass of arctic air swept through an area unaccustomed to freezing temperatures.
The extreme cold, which killed at least two dozen people in Texas and reduced electricity to more than 4 million at its peak, also hit natural gas and electricity production, cutting off the supplies needed to run the factories.
The shutdowns have led refineries to burn or release gases to avoid damaging their processing units. This flaring darkened the eastern Texas skies with smoke visible for miles.
“These emissions can eclipse typical refinery emissions by orders of magnitude,” said Jane Williams, president of the Sierra Club’s National Clean Air Team.
She said US regulators must change policies that allow “these massive emissions to happen with impunity.”
The five largest refiners emitted nearly 337,000 pounds of pollutants, including benzene, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide, according to preliminary data provided to the Texas Commission on Environment Quality (TCEQ) .
Valero Energy said in a TCEQ filing that it had freed 78,000 pounds in 24 hours as of Feb. 15 from its Port Arthur refinery, citing freezing cold and utility outages.
The 118,100 pounds of emissions from Motiva’s refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, between February 15 and 18, was more than three times the excess emissions it reported to the US Environmental Protection Agency. for all of 2019.
Marathon Petroleum’s Galveston Bay refinery released 14,255 pounds in less than five hours on February 15, or about 10% of its total releases above authorized levels in 2019.
Exxon Mobil said its Baytown Olefins plant emits nearly one ton of benzene and 68,000 tons of carbon monoxide, citing in its disclosure the shutdown of “several processing units and the safe use of the flare system.” .
Exxon blamed the shutdown of two Texas refineries on freezing weather and the loss of natural gas supplies. A spokesperson said its petrochemical plants in Texas and Louisiana have supplied 560 megawatts to local communities, helping to power about 300,000 homes.
Valero had no immediate comment. Motiva and Marathon did not respond to requests for comment.
Final pollution release figures are due to be submitted to the state in two weeks.
“NO AMOUNT SAFE”
Flaring continued throughout the week, as refiners shut down plants.
“We had six or seven flares at the same time,” said Hilton Kelly, who lives in Port Arthur, where the refineries operated by Motiva, Valero and Total SE are located. “It’s still happening now.”
Sharon Wilson, a researcher with advocacy group Earthworks, said the releases are alarming, in part because “there is no safe amount of benzene for human exposure.”
State data showing that oil and gas producers were burning methane this week “only makes matters worse, and it could have been avoided” by winterizing the facility, she said.
Texas oil and gas companies filed 174 notices of pollution releases above allowable levels between Feb. 11 and Feb. 18, four times the number the week before, according to data from TCEQ.
Total pollution at facilities in the Houston area during the cold snap totaled about 703,000 pounds, about 3% of total pollution over the amounts allowed for all of 2019, and nearly 10% of releases in 2018, according to TCEQ data analyzed by the defense group Environment Texas.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by The Bharat Express News staff and is posted Platforms.)