Oil and Gas Facility 'Accidents' Are Major Source of Air Pollution
"Accidents" and other non-routine events at Texas oil and gas facilities, refineries and petrochemical plants released almost 100,000 tons of pollution from 2009-2011, according to a new report from the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) based on data from gathered from a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) database.
Separately, EIP today indicated that it will pursue litigation, if necessary, in the wake of two notice of intent (NOI) filings the organization made with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) related to major pollution issues at U.S. refineries.
During the three-year time period covered in the Texas study, the non-routine emission events at chemical plants, refineries and natural gas operations released a combined total of more than 42,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and just over 50,000 tons of smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These so-called “emission event” pollutants are in addition to the emissions released year-round during so-called “normal operations,” and are usually not included in the data the government uses to establish regulations or evaluate public health impacts.
Natural gas operations—which include well heads, pipelines, compressors, boosters and storage systems—accounted for more than 85 percent of total sulfur dioxide and nearly 80 percent of the VOCs released during these episodes. Both pollutants are linked to asthma attacks and other respiratory ailments, and can form fine particles that contribute to premature death from heart disease.
EIP Director Eric Schaeffer said:
“Too many of these ‘accidents’ are the norm at some natural gas and chemical plants. These upsets can dump a lot of pollution in a few short hours, and some of them continue releasing benzene and other toxins for weeks. Many of these breakdowns—and the pollution that comes with them—could be prevented by upgrading pollution controls, improving maintenance and recapturing and reusing gas instead of releasing it to the environment as pollution. The U.S. EPA needs to crack down on polluters who seem to think that these events—no matter how many or how severe—somehow excuse them from the Clean Air Act.”
Matt Tejada, executive director, Air Alliance, Houston, said:
“Texans living in our state's many fenceline communities have, for far too long, been regularly exposed to pollutants from accidental releases that should never be allowed into the air. And the number of Texans whose health is negatively impacted by such damaging pollution is increasing with the growth of gas extraction and processing operations. Texas needs EPA to get serious about eliminating these accidental releases.”
Hilton Kelley, executive director of Communities In-power and Development, Port Arthur, said: "The Environmental Protection Agency must do a better job of counting the toxic pollution dumped into low-income and minority communities. We must stop the onslaught of this toxic pollution that is causing liver disease, heart disease and cancer in the communities I advocate for."
Juan Parras, founder, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, Houston: “I am a firm believer and advocate for clean air, however, I live in an environment where ‘clean’ is dictated by petrochemical, gas plants and oil refineries in the Houston Region. They decide what they can get away with and blame their highly toxic emissions on ‘accidents’ that they claim are beyond their control. Oops! The EPA needs to comply with its mandate, and that is to protect our environment and public health as it relates to toxins in the air, water and soil.”
The five Texas facilities in the petrochemical, oil and gas, and refining sectors reporting the most SO2 from “emission events” between 2009 and 2011 are:
- Keystone Gas Plan, Kermit, Winkler County, 11,076 tons.
- Valero Port Arthur Refinery, Port Arthur, Jefferson County, 2,569 tons.
- Goldsmith Gas Plan, Goldsmith, Ector County, 2,171 tons.
- Mallet CO2 Recovery Plant Sundown, Hockley County, 1,730 tons.
- Slaughter Gasoline Company, Sundown, Hockley County, 1,538.
The five Texas facilities in the petrochemical, oil and gas, and refining sectors, reporting the most VOCs from “emission events” between 2009 and 2011 are:
- Magellan Pipeline Company LP Pipeline, Galveston, Galveston County, 15,975 tons.
- Exxon Mobil Beaumont Refinery, Beaumont, Jefferson County, 3,565 tons.
- El Mar 12, Mentone, Loving County, 1,825 tons.
- Boyd Compressor Station, Big Lake, Regan County, 1,176 tons.
- Falcon Refinery, Ingleside, San Patricio County,1,051 tons.
Every year, refineries, chemical plants and natural gas facilities release thousands of tons of air pollution when production units break down, or are shut off, restarted or repaired. Most of these “emission events” release pollution through flares, or from leaking pipelines, tanks or other production equipment.
The Clean Air Act makes polluters strictly liable for their mistakes, but loopholes in regulations either excuse violations that result from malfunctions altogether, or allow polluters to escape penalties by claiming that such mishaps are beyond the control of plant operators. As a result, federal or state agencies rarely even investigate these events, much less take enforcement action. EPA’s current standards are so relaxed that even the most serious violations are excused, inviting plant operators to defer improvements that could make plants safer—and sometimes even turn a profit.
About the Data
Texas facilities have been required to submit online reports estimating emissions caused by upsets, maintenance, startup and shutdown activities since 2003, along with an explanation of what caused the events. The data in the EIP report obtained from TCEQ’s Emissions Event database. The industry classifications were determined using the facility’s SIC or NAICS code, as reported to the TCEQ central registry and EPA’s Facility Registration System. When industry classification information was unavailable, the data was supplemented using other information on TCEQ’s central registry.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Eoin Higgins
Over 300 groups on Monday urged Senate leadership to reject a bill currently under consideration that would incentivize communities to sell off their public water supplies to private companies for pennies on the dollar.
<div id="fea63" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9a6f211c2bc5aedd34837944cb8eeedf"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1281000111481294849" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Water in Illinois is overwhelmingly public. Why is Tammy Duckworth sponsoring a bill that aims to change that? https://t.co/1V36Kkd99s</div> — The American Prospect (@The American Prospect)<a href="https://twitter.com/TheProspect/statuses/1281000111481294849">1594249201.0</a></blockquote></div>
- DNC Ignores Progressive Climate Activists - EcoWatch ›
- Who's a Climate Champion and Who's a Climate Disaster? - EcoWatch ›
- California Makes Face Masks Mandatory to Fight Pandemic ... ›
- Here's Why COVID-19 Can Spread So Easily at Gyms and Fitness ... ›
- Hot Weather and COVID-19: Added Threats of Reopening States in ... ›
- Trump Plans to End Federal Funding for COVID-19 Testing Sites ... ›
The Washington Redskins will retire their controversial name and logo, the National Football League (NFL) team announced Monday.
By Alyssa Murdoch, Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle and Sapna Sharma
Summer has finally arrived in the northern reaches of Canada and Alaska, liberating hundreds of thousands of northern stream fish from their wintering habitats.
A Good News Story?<p>On the surface, the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/fwb.13569" target="_blank">results from our study</a> appear to provide a "good news" story. Warming temperatures were linked to higher numbers of fish, more species overall and, therefore, potentially more fishing opportunities for northerners.</p><p>Initially, we were surprised to learn that warming was increasing the distribution of cold-adapted fish. We reasoned that modest amounts of warming could lead to benefits such as increased food and winter habitat availability without reaching stressful levels for many species.</p>
Photo of Arctic grayling (left) and Dolly Varden trout (right). Alyssa Murdoch / Lilian Tran / Nunavik Research Centre and Tracey Loewen / Fisheries and Oceans Canada<p>Yet, not all fish species fared equally well. Ecologically unique northern species — those that have evolved in colder, more nutrient-poor environments, such as Arctic grayling and Dolly Varden trout — were showing declines with warming.</p>
Fish Strandings and Buried Eggs<p>Recent news headlines run the gamut for Pacific salmon — from their increased escapades <a href="https://nunatsiaq.com/stories/article/more-pacific-salmon-showing-up-in-western-arctic-waters/" target="_blank">into the Arctic</a> to <a href="https://www.juneauempire.com/news/warm-waters-across-alaska-cause-salmon-die-offs/" target="_blank">massive pre-spawning die-offs</a> in central Alaska. Similarly, results from our study revealed different outcomes for fish depending on local climatic conditions, including Pacific salmon.</p><p>We found that warmer spring and fall temperatures may be helping juvenile salmon by providing a longer and more plentiful growing season, and by supporting early egg development in northern regions that were previously too cold for survival.</p><p>In contrast, salmon declined in regions that were experiencing wetter fall conditions, pointing to an increased risk of flooding and sedimentation that could bury or dislodge incubating eggs.</p>
Headwaters of the Wind River within the largely intact Peel River watershed in northern Canada. Don Reid / Wildlife Conservation Society Canada / Author provided<p>Interestingly, we found that certain climatic combinations, such as warmer summer water temperatures with decreased summer rainfall, were important in determining where Pacific salmon could survive. Summer warming in drier watersheds led to declines, suggesting that lowered streamflows may have increased the risk of fish becoming stranded in subpar habitats that were too warm and crowded.</p>
The Fate of Northern Fisheries<p>The promise of a warmer and more accessible Arctic has attracted mounting interest in new economic opportunities, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2019.103637" target="_blank">including fisheries</a>. As warming rates at higher latitudes are already <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank">two to three times global levels</a>, it seems probable that northern biodiversity will experience dramatic shifts in the coming decades.</p><p>Despite the many unknowns surrounding the future of Pacific salmon, many fisheries are currently <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/03632415.2017.1374251" target="_blank">thriving following warmer and more productive northern oceans</a>, and some <a href="https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic68876" target="_blank">Arctic Indigenous communities are developing new salmon fisheries</a>.</p><p>As warming continues, the commercial salmon fishing industry is poised to expand northwards, but its success will largely depend on extenuating factors such as <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060023067" target="_blank">changes to marine habitat and food sources</a> and <a href="https://www.yukon-news.com/news/promising-chinook-salmon-run-failed-to-materialize-in-the-yukon-river-panel-hears/" target="_blank">how many fish are caught during the freshwater stages of their journey</a>.</p><p>Even with the potential for increased northern biodiversity, it is important to recognize that some northern communities may be unable to adapt or may <a href="https://thenarwhal.ca/searching-for-the-yukon-rivers-missing-chinook/" target="_blank">lose individual species that are associated with important cultural values</a>.</p>
- New England Fishing Communities Being Destroyed by 'Climate ... ›
- Shrimp Fishing Banned in Gulf of Maine Due to Ocean Warming ... ›
- Atlantic Salmon Is All But Extinct as a Genetically Eroded Version of ... ›
A heat wave that set in over the South and Southwest left much of the U.S. blanketed in record-breaking triple digit temperatures over the weekend. The widespread and intense heat wave will last for weeks, making the magnitude and duration of its heat impressive, according to The Washington Post.
- Hot Weather and COVID-19: Added Threats of Reopening States in ... ›
- 50 Million Americans Are Currently Living Under Some Type of Heat ... ›
- Second Major Heat Wave This Summer Smashes Records Across ... ›
By Joni Sweet
If you get a call from a number you don't recognize, don't hit decline — it might be a contact tracer calling to let you know that someone you've been near has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Interviews With Contact Tracers<p>Contact tracing is a public health strategy that involves identifying everyone who may have been in contact with a person who has the coronavirus. Contact tracers collect information and provide guidance to help contain the transmission of disease.</p><p>It's been used during outbreaks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), Ebola, measles, and now the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.</p><p>It starts when the local department of health gets a report of a confirmed case of the coronavirus in its community and gives that person a call. The contact tracer usually provides information on how to isolate and when to get treatment, then tries to figure out who else the person may have exposed.</p><p>"We ask who they've been in contact with in the 48 hours prior to symptom onset, or 2 days before the date of their positive test if they don't have symptoms," said <a href="https://case.edu/medicine/healthintegration/people/heidi-gullett" target="_blank">Dr. Heidi Gullett</a>, associate director of the Center for Community Health Integration at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and medical director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Health in Ohio.</p>
“You’ve Been Exposed”<p>After the case interview, contact tracers will get to work calling the folks who may have been exposed to the coronavirus by the person who tested positive.</p><p>"We give them recommendations about quarantining or isolating, getting tested, and what to do if they become sick. If they're not already sick, we still want them to self-quarantine so that they don't spread the disease to anyone else if they were to become sick," said Labus.</p><p>Generally, the contact tracer won't ask for additional contacts unless they happen to call someone who is sick or has a confirmed case of the virus. They will help ensure the contact has the resources they need to isolate themselves, if necessary. The contact tracer may continue to stay in touch with that person over the next 14 days.</p><p>"We follow the percentage of people that were contacts, then converted into being actual cases of the virus. It's an important marker to help us understand what kind of transmission happens in our community and how to control the virus," said Gullett.</p>
Why You Should Participate (and What Happens If You Don’t)<p>A <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(20)30457-6/fulltext" target="_blank">Lancet study</a> from June 16, which looked at data from more than 40,000 people, found that COVID-19 transmission could be reduced by 64 percent through isolating those who have the coronavirus, quarantining their household, and contacting the people they may have exposed.</p><p>The combination strategy was significantly more effective than mass random testing or just isolating the sick person and members of their household.</p><p>However, contact tracing is only as effective as people's willingness to participate, and a small number of people who've contracted the coronavirus or were potentially exposed are reluctant to talk.</p><p>"Contact tracers have all been hung up on, cussed at, yelled at," said Gullet.</p><p>The hesitation to talk to contact tracers often stems from concerns over privacy — a serious issue in healthcare.</p>
- Anti-Racism Protests Are Not Driving Coronavirus Spikes, Data ... ›
- Cell Phone Tracking Analysis Shows Where Florida Springbreakers ... ›
NASA scientists say that warmer than average surface sea temperatures in the North Atlantic raise the concern for a more active hurricane season, as well as for wildfires in the Amazon thousands of miles away, according to Newsweek.