Two refineries, one BP’s troubled Texas City refinery and another operated by Valero Energy Corp, have reportedly released more than 150,000 pounds of pollutants into the air after power troubles forced emergency shutdowns at several refineries in the area.
That figure could grow as the companies restart their equipment and file more emissions reports with regulators.
What’s not clear is how the sizable release has affected air quality in the area. Conflicting accounts from local officials and environmental regulators about air monitoring results have raised more questions than answers.
Texas City officials, who are relying on air monitoring data from a BP contractor and the fire department, said emissions have not reached harmful levels. “There was constant monitoring going on at all times and it did not reveal anything, although there’s a strong smell of hydrocarbons in the air,” said Bruce Clawson, Texas City’s Homeland Security coordinator.
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) officials said the levels of chemical emissions were at one point so high that they maxed out the monitoring equipment.
“Values were outside the range our instrument can read,” an agency spokesman said. “Maximum readings taken by TCEQ staff were in excess of the instruments measurement capability.”
Officials are now investigating chemical emission levels to find the true values.
Residents have reported health effects, and at least 25 people went to the hospital.
At this point, the cause of the power outages is still under investigation. The Houston Chronicle reported the power grid operator, Texas New Mexico Power, and BP had problems with their equipment. BP’s Texas City plant, in particular, has had a troubled history of failing equipment and other safety problems despite the more than $1 billion the company has spent on improvements. Nineteen workers have died in accidents at the refinery since 2005, 15 of which perished in the 2005 blast.
Last year BP’s Texas City plant also released more than 500,000 pounds of toxic chemicals over a period of 40 days when flares didn’t burn off the chemicals and the plant’s air monitors failed to detect the extent of the emissions for several weeks.