Chemical emergencies at Texas refineries show how dangerous accidents can be to surrounding communities

If you’ve been following the news out of Texas City, you know that the four facilities that suffered from power outages Monday night and Tuesday morning are still struggling to get back online. The event created a chemical emergency, having residents shelter in place and shutting down schools on Tuesday. Below is a press release we sent out to media on Tuesday, highlighting the importance of flare monitoring and other precautions.

Chemical emergencies at Texas City refineries show how dangerous accidents can be to surrounding communities
Louisiana facilities just as vulnerable and prone to similar accidents

NEW ORLEANS, La. – Power outages at three Texas City refineries and one chemical plant Monday night and early this morning prompted shelter-in-place warnings for nearby residents and shut down local schools today.

Flares burned throughout the night, and news stories today from the Houston Chronicle say 13 people went to local hospitals complaining of respiratory problems. Despite the excessive flaring, officials report there were no emissions of hazardous materials in the area.

As research has shown, that’s rarely the case.

From LABB’s Common Ground report: “Refineries routinely overestimate the efficiency of flare incineration rates. Refinery accident reports show the plant environmental managers make assumptions that the flares will incinerate 98 or 99 percent of chemicals. … There is, however, no engineering proof to support these calculations. The evidence (specifically an EPA analysis of BP Petroleum Refinery in Texas City last year, one of the facilities at question today) shows that actual combustion efficiency of the flare can be as low as 50 percent.”

While power failure makes up a smaller percentage of accident causes for Louisiana refineries, related issues like equipment failure, start up and shut down, and general maintenance problems combine to make up the bulk of refinery accidents. Furthermore, news today from Texas City shows the power outages were likely the fault of “equipment owned and operated by the refineries.”

From LABB’s Refinery Accident Database: The total reported pollution from Louisiana refinery accidents caused by power failure from 2005-2009 amounted to 242,880 pounds. The total percentage of reported storm pollution caused in association with power failure amounted to 11 percent of storm-related accidents (19 out of 172 accidents).

“Refineries rarely have sufficient backup power supplies and accidents caused by power outages is something we often see at Louisiana refineries during bad weather, like heavy rains and hurricanes,” said Anna Hrybyk, LABB’s program manager. “The public should be demanding that refineries have sufficient backup power supplies in time for the approaching hurricane season. This upgrade in technology would not only create green jobs, but it would also protect the health of surrounding residents and schoolchildren in the path of storms as well as dangerous petrochemical pollution.”

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