State Watch

Refineries released tons of pollution into air during Texas winter storm

Drivers navigate snowy highway in Austin, Texas
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The arctic freeze in Texas caused refineries to release tons of pollutants into the air last week, Reuters reported Sunday.

Reuters reports that refineries and petrochemical plants rushed to shut down as freezing temperatures spread out across the state and impacted the power and natural gas supplies needed to run the plants. The shutdowns resulted in flares, the burning and release of gases, in order to prevent damage to the processing units.

According to data from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the five largest refiners released almost 337,000 pounds of pollutants. The pollutants included benzene, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide.

“These emissions can dwarf the usual emissions of the refineries by orders of magnitude,” Jane Williams, chair of the Sierra Club’s National Clean Air Team, told Reuters.

Williams added that U.S. regulators must change policies that allow “these massive emissions to occur with impunity.”

According to filings with the TCEQ, Valero Energy released 78,000 pounds of pollutants from its Port Arthur refinery.

Motiva released 118,100 pounds of emissions from its Port Arthur refinery, which Reuters notes is three times the amount of excess emissions it reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the entire year of 2019.

The final figures of released emissions are expected to be submitted in two weeks, Reuters reports.

Sharon Wilson, a researcher for the advocacy group Earthworks, told Reuters that the multiple emission releases are alarming because “there is no safe amount of benzene for human exposure.”

She added that the emission releases could be avoided if the factories had been winterized.

Texas has been heavily impacted by the winter storms that have covered much of the U.S. this week. Millions of homes lost power and more than 2 dozen people in Texas have died due to the freezing temperatures.

President Biden approved a major disaster declaration for Texas on Saturday, sending funding to 77 of Texas’s 254 counties. Similar emergency declarations have also been approved for Oklahoma and Louisiana.

Tags Air pollution Joe Biden Port Arthur Refinery Texas
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