After Hurricane Harvey devastated parts of Texas last weekend, you probably didn’t think the situation could get any worse. Sadly, it did. On Tuesday, ExxonMobil acknowledged that two of its refineries were damaged during the natural disaster, causing hazardous pollutants to leak into the environment.
The acknowledgment was made in a regulatory filing with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, following repeated complaints on social media of an “unbearable” chemical smell in parts of Houston. In the filing, ExxonMobil said that a floating roof covering a tank at ExxonMobil’s Baytown oil refinery sank due to heavy rain. This, in turn, caused it to dip below the surface of oil or other materials stored there, causing “unusually high emissions, especially of volatile organic compounds, a category of regulated chemicals,” reports the Washington Post.
The Baytown Refinery is the second largest in the country. ExxonMobil is seeking a permit to empty the tank and make repairs. Reportedly, the company is planning to “conduct an assessment to determine the impact of the storm once it is safe to do so.” A spokesperson for ExxonMobil refused to say what was in the tank.
The extent of Hurricane Harvey’s damage doesn’t end there. ExxonMobil’s Beaumont petrochemical refinery suffered damage to its sulfur thermal oxidizers, which capture and burn sulfur dioxide. As a result, the plant expelled 1,312.84 pounds of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere — well in excess of allowable emissions. The company said in a statement, “The unit was stabilized. No impact to the community has been reported. Actions were taken to minimize emissions and to restore the refinery to normal operations.”
According to Luke Metzger, director of the group Environment Texas, “Most of the unauthorized emissions come from the process of shutting down, and then starting up, the various units of the plant, when pollution control devices can’t be operated properly and there’s lots of flaring.” Flaring is usually done when releasing chemicals without burning them is more hazardous for the local community and environment. The company admitted to flaring hazardous materials at its Baytown refinery both Sunday and Monday.
ExxonMobil isn’t the only company responsible for environmental damage in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. The Washington Post reports that many facilities belonging to major companies filed notices with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The Cedar Bayou chemical plant, for instance, exceeded permitted limits for several kinds of hazardous pollutants, including 1,3-butadiene, benzene and ethylene, during shutdown procedures. Litigation may now follow, considering the release of carcinogens increases the risk of cancer for those living near the plants.
Via Washington Post