Texas industrial sites spewed 2 million pounds of pollution during last week's freeze

Some of the releases occurred in South Texas counties, including McMullen, Live Oak and DeWitt, which are significant sites of oil and gas exploration.

click to enlarge An oil refinery in Port Arthur, Texas. - Shutterstock / Heidi Besen
Shutterstock / Heidi Besen
An oil refinery in Port Arthur, Texas.
Texas oil refineries, petrochemical plants and other industrial sites reported releasing 2.1 million pounds of unauthorized air pollution during last week's freezing temperatures, newly released data show.

Paperwork businesses filed with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality documents 92 releases of toxic chemicals across 27 counties between Jan. 13 and Jan. 16, according to an analysis released this week by watchdog group the Environment Texas Research and Policy Center.

Nearly a third of the incidents took place around the Houston area, but some occurred in South Texas counties, including McMullen, Live Oak and DeWitt, which are significant sites of oil and gas exploration. None of the releases occurred in Bexar County.

“This pollution is largely preventable, but polluters continue to skimp on weatherization, which leads to big pollution dumps during extreme cold and hot weather,” Environment Texas Executive Director Luke Metzger said in an emailed statement. “Texas families at risk are already dealing with a lot during extreme weather. They shouldn’t have to also worry about their kids breathing cancer-causing chemicals.”

In reports to state regulators, plant operators blamed pollution releases on system failures and equipment shutdowns caused by the extreme winter weather. Companies catalogued the following incidents last week in their state filings:
  • A West Texas Pipeline freeze led to the release of some 300,000 pounds of methane, a gas considered a major contributor to climate change.
  • An ExxonMobil refinery near Beaumont released 150,000 of chemicals over two days, saying weather conditions degraded its equipment.
  • A separate ExxonMobil site in Baytown emitted more than 125,000 pounds of chemicals, including the lung irritant sulfur dioxide, due to the cold's reported impact on its gear.
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Sanford Nowlin

Sanford Nowlin is editor-in-chief of the San Antonio Current.

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