KEY POINTS

  • Oil refineries in Texas were forced to shut down due to the cold weather
  • Exxon’s Baytown Olefins Plant emitted nearly a ton of benzene and 68,000 tons of carbon monoxide
  • The refineries were affected by power outages and shortage of supplies

As the cold weather forced oil refineries in Texas to shut down, they released tons of air pollutants over the state in the past week. Power outages and a shortage of supplies affected refineries and petrochemical plants in the region. 

Texas was hit by a severe winter storm which led to widespread blackouts and a water crisis in the state. It also wreaked havoc on electric and natural gas generation, jeopardizing the energy supplies necessary to operate petrochemical plants. 

To prevent damage to their processing units due to the shutdowns, refineries flared, or burned, releasing gases,Reuters reported. The five largest refiners emitted nearly 337,000 pounds of pollutants, according preliminary data supplied to the Texas Commission on Environment Quality (TCEQ).

In refineries and petrochemical facilities, flares burn excess hydrocarbon gases that cannot be recovered or recycled. Flaring occurs during the startup or shutdown of any facility and during unplanned interruptions like power outages.     

Exxon’s Baytown Olefins Plant emitted nearly a ton of benzene and 68,000 tons of carbon monoxide, with the company blaming the halting of “multiple process units and safe utilization of the flare system.” It said the shutdown was due to loss of utilities, including third-party natural gas supply, and the icy weather.

Meanwhile, Valero Energy Corp said in its filing to TCEQ that the Port Arthur refinery released 78,000 pounds over 24 hours beginning last Monday. It also cited the winter storm and interruptions in utility services. 

Oil refineries in Texas have also suffered widespread damage due to the brutal cold, and are expected to be down for weeks of repairs. Companies in the oil industry have warned customers that they won’t be able to meet deliveries under contract, Bloomberg noted. 

President Joe Biden on Saturday approved a major disaster declaration for Texas as the state continued to face the aftermath of the winter storm. It makes federal funding available to affected individuals in 77 counties. Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners. 

Federal funding is also available to state and local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency protective measures, according to a White House press release

An oil refinery in Galveston Bay in Texas. A lack of storage facilities is pushing the price of oil down An oil refinery in Galveston Bay in Texas. A lack of storage facilities is pushing the price of oil down Photo: AFP / ROBERT SULLIVAN