Petrochemical facilities release more than two million pounds of pollution during Hurricane Harvey

For Immediate Release:

(HOUSTON, August 28, 2017) As Houston’s sweeping petrochemical industry shuts down because of tropical storm Harvey, it is releasing more than 2 million pounds of harmful pollution into the air, according to its initial reports to Texas regulators.

The shutdowns include the Houston-area refineries of Exxon Mobil, Petrobras and Shell, as well as Chevron Phillips’ Cedar Bayou petrochemical complex.

While these shutdowns may be necessary, they can produce significant amounts of air pollution. Chevron Phillips, for example, told the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that it expects to exceed permitted limits for several hazardous pollutants, such as 1,3-butadiene, benzene and ethylene, during shutdown procedures.

At the same time, TCEQ has shut down all of its air quality monitors in the Houston area to avoid water and wind damage related to the storm.

“Air pollution is one of the unseen dangers of the storm,” said Dr. Elena Craft, senior health scientist at Environmental Defense Fund. “Poor air quality puts the most vulnerable among us, like children and seniors, at risk for asthma, heart attacks, strokes and other health problems.”  

The amount of projected Harvey-related air pollution is roughly 39% of the unauthorized emissions in the Houston area during industrial malfunctions or maintenance for all of 2016, according to a recent report by the Environmental Integrity Project and Environment Texas.

When a refinery or chemical plant stops in preparation for a storm, there can be an increase in emissions because pollution-control devices require stable, higher temperatures to operate properly. These emissions, often illegal, can be exacerbated by poor design and training, old equipment and waiting until the last minute to begin the shutdown.  

“Refineries and chemical plants need to be shut down during natural disasters, but they don’t have to pollute and break the law when doing so,” said Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas. “Industry needs to modernize their facilities and take better care to not make a bad situation worse with their health threatening pollution.”

Facility       Pounds of pollution

BLUE CUBE OPERATIONS FREEPORT 157
SHELL OIL DEER PARK 300
ENTERPRISE MONT BELVIEU COMPLEX 6,826
DOW TEXAS OPERATIONS FREEPORT 52,247
EXXON MOBIL BAYTOWN REFINERY 12,604
ENTERPRISE MONT BELVIEU COMPLEX 5,000
SWEENY REFINERY 919
EQUISTAR CHEMICALS LA PORTE COMPLEX 152
PASADENA PRODUCT TERMINAL 15
SHELL OIL DEER PARK 213
CELANESE CLEAR LAKE PLANT 380
PASADENA TERMINAL 394,000
VALERO PARTNERS HOUSTON 3,357
PASADENA PRODUCT TERMINAL 16
EXXON MOBIL BAYTOWN REFINERY 371,198
EXXON MOBIL CHEMICAL BAYTOWN
OLEFINS PLANT 28,098
HOUSTON PLANT 5,953
CHEVRON PHILLIPS CHEMICAL CEDAR
BAYOU PLANT 243
CHOCOLATE BAYOU PLANT 152,700
CELANESE CLEAR LAKE PLANT 1715
PASADENA REFINING SYSTEM 720
CHEVRON PHILLIPS CHEMICAL
CEDAR BAYOU PLANT 766,829
PASADENA PLASTICS COMPLEX 9641
CHEVRON PHILLIPS CHEMICAL SWEENY
OLD OCEAN FACILITIES 222,726
EQUISTAR CHEMICALS LA PORTE COMPLEX 429
CHEVRON PHILLIPS CHEMICAL SWEENY
OLD OCEAN FACILITIES 11,789