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Environment

Tropical Storm Harvey sparked huge huff of air pollution in Texas

Refineries and petrochemical plants spewed tons of extra emissions

by Jeff Johnson, special to C&EN
November 20, 2017 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 95, ISSUE 46

Refineries and petrochemical facilities along the Texas Gulf Coast shut down before Tropical Storm Harvey made landfall on Aug. 25. But even with a few days’ warning, such unplanned shutdowns can result in chemical emissions that exceed air pollution permit levels.

In all, 2.6 million kg of chemicals were released from Aug. 23 to Sept. 25, according to an interactive database published by Greenpeace and based on reports that companies provided to Texas environmental officials. Some 690,000 kg of emissions were deemed particularly hazardous by Greenpeace and include benzene, 1,3-butadiene, ethylbenzene, hexane, hydrogen sulfide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, toluene, and xylenes.

Twelve companies emitted 90% of all pollution released, according to the data.

Ten companies released 90% of the most hazardous chemicals. Most of those ten were refineries, but one pipeline and distribution facility, Magellan Midstream Partners’ Galena Park terminal, emitted one-third of all hazardous chemicals.

Among hazardous chemicals released, nearly all emissions were beyond the amounts allowed under the companies’ air pollution permits.

Nearly all facilities are located in communities with above-average rates of poverty and with disproportionate shares of people of color, Greenpeace notes, citing data from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

The database was prepared by researcher Connor Gibson and is available at gpusa-research.org.

Jeff Johnson is a freelance journalist in Washington, D.C.

12 companies responsible for 90% of total air pollution (kg)

Magellan

Midstream Partners

1,147,234

Valero Energy

262,789

Saudi Aramco

199,238

Dow Chemical

159,955

Ineos

110,727

Kinder Morgan

75,322

Formosa

Plasitcs

72,889

Royal

Dutch Shell

52,161

Total S.A.

70,636

ExxonMobil

59,388

LyondellBasell

52,049

Enbridge

52,383

Total = 2,314,769

Breakdown of Magellan

Midstream Partners emissions (kg)

Isopentane

106,317

2,3-Dimethyl-

butane

81,858

Butanes

70,467

Pentanes

65,773

Other

449,335

Xylenes

97,975

Octane

35,098

Cyclopentane

64,813

1,2,4-Trimethyl-

5-ethylbenzene

45,414

Toluene

84,094

1,3,5-Trimethylbenzene

46,087

Emissions amount permitted (kg)

Biggest emitters of hazardous chemicals

Amount emitted that exceeded permits (kg)

Valero Energy

Dow

Magellan Midstream Partners

586

23,911

586

109,990

Emitted 16,879 kg of

nitrogen oxides but permit

limits vary by application

and location.

5,870

5,216

16,883

31,148

Sulfur dioxide

Ethylbenzene

Benzene

Hexane

586

586

Saudi Aramco

SK Capital Partners

97,389

83,508

945

Emitted 4,239 kg of

1,3-butadiene but did not

exceed permitted limit of

12,519 kg.

Xylenes

Toluene

Hydrogen sulfide

Note: Permitted values calculated assuming continuous operation for 276 hours

12 companies responsible for 90% of

total air pollution (kg)

Valero

Energy

262,789

Saudi

Aramco

199,238

Dow

Chemical

159,955

Kinder

Morgan

75,322

Ineos

110,727

Magellan

Midstream Partners

1,147,234

Formosa

Plasitcs

72,889

Total S.A.

70,636

ExxonMobil

59,388

Royal

Dutch Shell

52,161

Lyondell-

Basell

52,049

Enbridge

52,383

Total = 2,314,769

Breakdown of

Magellan Midstream

Partners emissions (kg)

2,3-Dimethylbutane

81,858

Butanes

70,467

Isopentane

106,317

Pentanes

65,773

Other

449,335

Xylenes

97,975

Octane

35,098

Cyclopentane

64,813

Toluene

84,094

1,3,5-Trimethylbenzene

46,087

1,2,4-Trimethyl-5-ethylbenzene

45,414

Biggest emitters of hazardous chemicals

Emissions amount permitted (kg)

Amount emitted that exceeded permits (kg)

Magellan Midstream Partners

586

586

5,870

5,216

16,883

31,148

Ethylbenzene

Benzene

Hexane

586

586

97,389

83,508

Xylenes

Toluene

Valero Energy

Dow

23,911

109,990

Emitted 16,879 kg of

nitrogen oxides but permit

limits vary by application

and location.

Sulfur dioxide

Saudi Aramco

SK Capital Partners

945

Emitted 4,239 kg of

1,3-butadiene but did not

exceed permitted limit of

12,519 kg.

Hydrogen sulfide

Note: Permitted values calculated assuming continuous

operation for 276 hours

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