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Texas freeze led to release of tons of air pollutants as refineries shut

Stock MarketsFeb 21, 2021 12:15PM ET
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2/2 © Reuters. Refinery operations near the Houston Ship Channel are seen in Houston 2/2

By Laura Sanicola and Erwin Seba

NEW YORK/HOUSTON (Reuters) - The largest U.S. oil refiners released tons of air pollutants into the skies over Texas this week, according to figures provided to the state, as one environmental crisis triggered another.

Refiners and petrochemical plants along the U.S. Gulf Coast scrambled to shut production as an arctic air mass spread into a region unused to frigid temperatures.

The extreme cold, which killed at least two dozen people in Texas and knocked out power to more than 4 million at its peak, also hit natural gas and electric generation, cutting supplies needed to run the plants.

Shutdowns led to the refineries flaring, or burning and releasing gases, to prevent damage to their processing units. That flaring darkened the skies in eastern Texas with smoke visible for miles.

"These emissions can dwarf the usual emissions of the refineries by orders of magnitude," said Jane Williams (NYSE:WMB), chair of the Sierra Club's National Clean Air Team.

She said U.S. regulators must change policies that allow "these massive emissions to occur with impunity."

TOP POLLUTERS

The five largest refiners emitted nearly 337,000 pounds of pollutants, including benzene, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide, according to preliminary data supplied to the Texas Commission on Environment Quality (TCEQ).

Valero Energy (NYSE:VLO) said in a filing with the TCEQ that it released 78,000 pounds over 24 hours beginning Feb. 15 from its Port Arthur refinery, citing the frigid cold and interruptions in utility services.

The 118,100 pounds of emissions from Motiva's Port Arthur, Texas, refinery between Feb. 15 and Feb. 18 were more than three times the excess emissions that it declared to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the whole of 2019.

Marathon Petroleum (NYSE:MPC)'s Galveston Bay Refinery released 14,255 pounds over less than five hours on Feb. 15, equivalent to about 10% of its total releases above permitted levels in 2019.

Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM) said its Baytown Olefins Plant emitted nearly one ton of benzene and 68,000 tons of carbon monoxide, citing in its disclosure the halting of "multiple process units and safe utilization of the flare system."

Exxon blamed the shutdown of two Texas refineries on the freezing weather and loss of natural gas supplies. A spokesman said its petrochemical plants in Texas and Louisiana have supplied 560 megawatts to local communities, helping power about 300,000 homes.

Valero did not have an immediate comment. Motiva and Marathon did not respond to requests for comment.

Final figures on pollution releases are due to be submitted to the state in two weeks.

'NO SAFE AMOUNT'

The flaring continued through the week as refiners kept plants out of service.

"We had six or seven flares going at one time," Hilton Kelly, who lives in Port Arthur, home to refineries operated by Motiva, Valero and Total SE, said on Friday. "It's still happening now."

Sharon Wilson, a researcher at advocacy group Earthworks, said the releases are alarming, in part because "there is no safe amount of benzene for human exposure."

State data showing oil and gas producers were flaring methane this week "is just making things worse, and it could have been prevented" by winterizing facilities, she said.

Texas oil and gas companies filed 174 notices of pollution releases above permitted levels between Feb. 11 and Feb. 18, four times the number the prior week, according to TCEQ data.

Total pollution at Houston-area facilities during the cold snap totaled approximately 703,000 pounds, about 3% of the total pollution over permitted amounts for all of 2019 and almost 10% of 2018's releases, according to TCEQ data analyzed by advocacy group Environment Texas.

Texas freeze led to release of tons of air pollutants as refineries shut
 

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Comments (20)
joninge kvamme
joninge kvamme Feb 21, 2021 4:50PM ET
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People freeze - use gaz. Gaz makes colder so people uses more gaz. More gaz makes more cold so people use even more gaz......so on and so on. U see where we are going ?
Michael Angelo
Michael Angelo Feb 21, 2021 4:45PM ET
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Texas is showing how republican capitalism works. The big problem is as usual, who pays the bill.
neil rutan
neil rutan Feb 21, 2021 4:45PM ET
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your obviously to "smart" to know about the massive outsourcing of pollution caused by the Democratic party. Instead of fixing the problem here at home send it elsewhere, instead of working with businesses. I love to here Biden say he is going to replace 200000 cars in the fleet with electric because it just drives home the point that liberals are to "smart" to know better. most of the pollution ever made by a car is created during manufacturing 🤣
Marco Ba
Marco Ba Feb 21, 2021 4:39PM ET
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Fakenews!!!!
Rick Baier
Rick Baier Feb 21, 2021 4:16PM ET
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Lack of heat tracing equipment at the gas plants and wind turbines bit them in the A.
Hans Mueller
Hans Mueller Feb 21, 2021 4:14PM ET
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A friend of mine from CA states it simply: The Texans got what they voted for and now they want socialistic bail out.
Joe Mead
Joementum Feb 21, 2021 4:12PM ET
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lol. I'm scared!
Ernie Keebler
Ernie Keebler Feb 21, 2021 2:58PM ET
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Flaring has been and still is common practice. After 150 years of this *******with gas&soil you'd think they could use excess gas burning to heat equipment/buildings or run generators . Same old greed
Ricardo Diogo
rcd72 Feb 21, 2021 2:58PM ET
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keep pump the marketkeep the greedy as high as possiblemaybe on cremation services we will use dollars as fuel...
John El
John El Feb 21, 2021 2:11PM ET
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the comments are hilarious. you uneducated fools need to rearrange your spirit beads...
Alan Rice
Alan Rice Feb 21, 2021 2:01PM ET
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Earths Biosphere: Commode of the sky.
Whaling Trawler
Whaling Trawler Feb 21, 2021 1:46PM ET
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lol omg save the whales
Alan Rice
Alan Rice Feb 21, 2021 1:46PM ET
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Forget the whales. Save the humans !!
Evan Ault
Evan Ault Feb 21, 2021 1:36PM ET
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and nobody cares....
Kurt Maxberry
Kurt Maxberry Feb 21, 2021 1:25PM ET
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How much polution did bitcoin do? How much pulition did tesla do?
Bill Melton
Bill Melton Feb 21, 2021 1:21PM ET
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Where did Laura Sanicola and Erwin Seba attend journalism school? Pravda or CGTN?
milena villa escobar
milena villa escobar Feb 21, 2021 12:14PM ET
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Another joke of an article disguised as journalism by Reuters
Casino Crypt
CasinoCrypt Feb 21, 2021 12:14PM ET
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why  ?
Jose Mibaresh
Jose Mibaresh Feb 21, 2021 11:32AM ET
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what about the *****the elite spew from their white planes everyday everywhere?
Kelly Mayer
Kelly Mayer Feb 21, 2021 11:20AM ET
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Stop demonizing Texas. This nothing but the Left Radical Agenda VS Texas, their main opposition. Wonder what Texas, Russia and Israel that were all hit by "rare" snow storms, all have in common... Weren't weapons of weather modification banned in in the 50s or 60s when they could already cause floods by then?
Jimmy Smith
Jimmy Smith Feb 21, 2021 11:20AM ET
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lmao
Adrian White
Adrian White Feb 21, 2021 11:20AM ET
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Kelly. You forgot to remove your tinfoil hat before commenting.
Kelly Mayer
Kelly Mayer Feb 21, 2021 11:20AM ET
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Because Gates is not heavily invested in vaccines, microsoft does not have a patent 060606 that is connected to biometric reading, and he is not promoting the whole world switch to syntetic meat, while being the largest farmland owner in the US, promoting also decarbonization which will severely damage vegetation and the human food supply. Now geoengeneering is not real... either some people need to srsly wake up or they are playing for the other side. It's so easy to provoke rain and temperature drops or rises. rare snow storms in Texas, Israel and Russia... No connection with Trump whatsoever.
rick rothweiler
rick rothweiler Feb 21, 2021 9:18AM ET
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the title is click bait when you compare polutant to normal operating parameters
Red Riley
Red Riley Feb 21, 2021 8:27AM ET
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and on top of that surely to be the hottest February on record. lol
Kelly Mayer
Kelly Mayer Feb 21, 2021 8:27AM ET
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10 points.
Parekh Kar
Parekh Kar Feb 21, 2021 8:13AM ET
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Are these articles legit ?doesn't make sense at allabsolute garbage u right just to polarise everyonewe have seen what renewables have done to create this crisisif grid would have been little more independent, it would have never happenDifferential frequency relay actuated in many of the generators due to this sudden Freq dropenergy security is also a thing if climate change is a thingand for climate change are we talking about deforestation urbanisationcutting down of forests ?
Kelly Mayer
Kelly Mayer Feb 21, 2021 8:13AM ET
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decarbonization, which would lead to severe damage to vegetation, and hence the global human food supply. Reak scientists are saying we currently have 5 times LESS carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than what is needed for ideal vegetation growth. and the so called "gates" experts want to decarbonize the atmosphere... and replace ALL meat with synthetic mush... being the largest farmland owner in the US, a real catastrophe is about to be generated. They are targeting the farmers... our food supply...
 
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