At Least 10 Houston Area Chemical Facilities and Oil and Gas Refineries Have Already Reported Problems With Dozens More Threatened

As Hurricane Harvey, having dumped more than 50 inches of rain, left the Texas coast, many throughout the region continue to live in fear of not only flooding, but also of increased effects of the dozens of chemical plants, oil and gas refineries, and Superfund sites that are littered throughout the communities. The concentration of refineries and industrial chemical facilities have burdened the communities with ongoing pollution and environmental injustice, which Harvey has only magnified. Since the storm struck, more than 10 of these facilities have reported serious issues, including leaks, spills, and potential explosions.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Response Center, there were more than 30 calls reporting spilled gasoline, crude oil, petroleum, and the release of contaminants from flare stacks in communities affected by Hurricane Harvey on Tuesday alone.

Facilities reporting issues include:

  • The Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas had both explosions and fires due to refrigerators keeping them at stable temperatures losing power.
  • The floating roof on one of the tanks at Baytown partially sank at the ExxonMobil refinery in Baytown, causing more than 12,000 pounds of benzene and toluene, two carcinogens, and volatile organic compounds to be released.
  • There were reports of gas leaking from a transmission pipeline in Ingleside.
  • In La Porte, a 14-inch pipeline reportedly spewed anhydrous hydrogen chloride, a toxic gas, for several hours.
  • The external floating roof at the Shell Oil Deer Park refinery had material on it, requiring the company to place foam on material to lower emissions.
  • The cooling water pump at the Chevron Phillips Chemical Cedar Bayou Plant reported and unexpected issue, despite the company having performed a controlled shutdown of the refinery.
  • Benzene and unspeciated volatile organic compounds got on top of an external floating roof and into a dike firewall at a Valero facility.
  • At another facility, Chevron Phillips reported it had sent more than 766,000 pounds of chemicals to its flare for burning, releasing dangerous toxins into the air.
  • A tank at Kinder Morgan’s Pasadena Terminal has tilted, releasing 279,500 pounds of chemicals into a containment dike. The company announced that a fire retardant foam had been placed over the exposed liquid, and that it was emptying the liquid from the tank and containment dike.
  • A lightning strike on a fiberglass storage tank at a Karbuhn Oil facility caused the burning of two tanks, releasing fluids into the firewall. An estimated five barrels of crude oil and 20 barrels of produced water was released

In response, Sierra Club Organizer Bryan Parras, a Houstonian who has remained in his home near these facilities, released the following statement:

“Living just two miles from one of the largest collections of chemical plants and refineries, I’ve seen the black smoke burning off from these deadly and dangerous plants, I’ve smelled the oil and chemicals, and I know the fear that strikes so many of our communities on a daily basis, which has been magnified by Harvey. Perhaps the most terrifying thing at the moment is that we simply don’t what’s happening at these facilities. The monitors have been shut down, workers understandably have fled the toxic sites, and the only way we can really know what’s happening is when we see it or smell it. People want to return home, but they’re fearful of the unknown and skeptical at best of the industry’s reports.

“The environmental crimes against my community and thousands more like it have been happening for decades, and superstorms like Harvey only heighten the threats we face. As the clouds clear and the sun returns, and we begin to think about rebuilding, we must ensure that the recovery is a just and equitable one that ensures communities are not displaced nor threatened by these toxic sites ever again, no matter the weather.”

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