Harvey: Exxon Refineries Damaged

Thursday, August 31, 2017 @ 03:08 PM gHale

ExxonMobil said Tuesday Hurricane Harvey damaged two of its refineries, causing the release of hazardous pollutants.

The acknowledgment came in a regulatory filing with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

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ExxonMobil said in the filings a floating roof covering a tank at the company’s Baytown oil refinery sank in heavy rains, dipping below the surface of oil or other material stored there, causing unusually high emissions, especially of volatile organic compounds, a category of regulated chemicals.

The Baytown refinery is the second-largest in the country. The company said in its filing that it would need to empty the tank to make repairs, though it wasn’t clear when the weather would permit that.

An ExxonMobil spokeswoman said the company would “conduct an assessment to determine the impact of the storm once it is safe to do so.” It did not say what material was in the tank.

At the company’s Beaumont petrochemical refinery, Harvey damaged a sulfur thermal oxidizer, a piece of equipment that captures and burns sulfur dioxide. As a result, the plant released 1,312.84 pounds of sulfur dioxide, well over the amounts allowed by the company’s permits.

“The unit was stabilized. No impact to the community has been reported,” the company said in its filing with the TCEQ. “Actions were taken to minimize emissions and to restore the refinery to normal operations.”

A variety of other chemicals ended up released during the shutdown of the plants. Amy Graham, a spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said ExxonMobil had filed a report at the National Response Center operated by the U.S. Coast Guard saying the Baytown refinery would release about 15 pounds of benzene into the air.

“Most of the unauthorized emissions come from the process of shutting down, and then starting up, the various units of the plant, when pollution control devices can’t be operated properly and there’s lots of flaring,” said Luke Metzger, director of the group Environment Texas.

Flaring is generally done when releasing chemicals without burning them is more hazardous for people and the environment. ExxonMobil said it had flared hazardous materials at its Baytown refinery Sunday and Monday.

Most of the other facilities belonging to major companies also filed notices with TCEQ. Chevron Phillips, for example, said that it expected its Cedar Bayou chemical plant to exceed permitted limits for several hazardous pollutants, such as 1,3-butadiene, benzene and ethylene, during shutdown procedures.

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