Hurricane Harvey Damages ExxonMobil Refineries, Releases Dangerous Pollutants

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On August 29th, ExxonMobil released a statement that acknowledged significant damage done to two refineries owned by the fuel giant. The statement also acknowledged the damage caused those refineries to release pollutants that are harmful to humans and the environment.

Following multiple complaints on Twitter about a strong chemical odor in areas of Houston, ExxonMobil released a regulatory report that took responsibility for the unknown cause of the smell.

According to the report, the incident was caused by heavy rains sinking a floating roof that covered a chemical tank at the Baytown refinery. This sinking roof caused emission levels to skyrocket, and those emissions included several regulated organic compounds. The report did not specify what substance was in the tank with the sunken roof.

The Beaumont refinery experienced some issues as well. The hurricane damaged a piece of equipment called a sulfur thermal oxidizer, which catches and burns off sulfur dioxide before it is released into the atmosphere. While the oxidizer was down, more than 1,300 pounds of the compound escaped.

The report claimed the oxidizer was repaired quickly in order to limit accidental emissions, but the damage had already been done. Several other chemical compounds were accidentally released as well, according to a report from the Environmental Protection Agency. The Baytown refinery even released 15 pounds of benzene into the environment, a notoriously dangerous carcinogen.

Experts agree that most of the emissions that came from those ExxonMobil refineries were merely the result of having to abruptly shut down and then restart the plants as the weather permitted.

As recently as 2010, ExxonMobil was sued by the Sierra Club and Environment Texas for allegedly releasing more than 8 million pounds of dangerous chemical compounds over a period of five years. The company was ordered to pay a fine of $20 million at the time of the suit.

Not only are respiratory issues a problem with this sort of chemical release, but carcinogens pose a major risk as well. Incidents such as this increase the chance of developing cancer for everyone living close to one of the refineries. Between the respiratory issues caused by the release of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide and the elevated risk of cancer, this sort of incident should not be taken lightly.

According to the Department of Energy, a total of 14 refineries in Texas had to shut down due to the hurricane. Those refineries were located across Texas, including Corpus Christi, Galveston, Houston, Port Arthur, and Beaumont. Due to the shutdown, oil production in the Gulf Coast was temporarily limited by roughly a third. That constitutes about 3.2 million barrels of oil per day, or roughly 17.6 percent of the entire capacity to refine oil in the United States.

The storm continued to affect oil production as it moved across Louisiana. That state produces about 1.65 million barrels of oil per day, which is a significant portion of the total capacity for the United States to produce refined oil.

Even though the storm itself was relatively short-lived, the damage it caused will be felt for months and even years for some residents of Texas. Several gas companies that operate out of Texas claimed they wanted to reopen their facilities as quickly as possible, but delays are likely due to issues with damaged equipment, clogged transportation systems, and damaged ports. Even some facilities that weren’t damaged at all were forced to close due to a lack of crude oil availability associated with port closures.

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