The little and not-so-little red dots on the map above show off sites on the EPA’s list of plants and refineries required to have a Risk Management Plan due to their potential for accidental hazardous chemical releases — with the larger dots showing the places that have already had an accident (or, in some cases, as many as 43). Clicking each dot will tell you what the facility’s name is, as well as how much toxic or flammable material it stores on site (to the nearest thousand pounds or so).
The Union of Concerned Scientists and t.e.j.a.s. put together the interactive map as part of a report released late last week, which compares the EPA’s data on air quality and cancer rates in a few neighborhoods on the west side of town (specifically in Bellaire and in the West Oaks and Eldridge area, just inside Hwy.6 near the Barker reservoir) with the same data in a couple of east side spots (Galena Park and Manchester).
Yesterday’s entry in Houston’s recurringgame of what’s-that-mysterious-black-cloud was brought to you by LyondellBasell’s Pasadena refinery at 12000 Lawndale St. (the same one that caught fire back in early April). The shot above was taken from an overpass near the junction of Loop 610 with Hwy. 225, though for parts of the afternoon the trail was visible from at least 7 miles away at the Hilton Americas building downtown. A LyondellBasell spokesperson tells Swamplot that flaring was triggered just before noon after a Calpine facility sending steam to the refinery lost power, reportedly due to a lightning strike. The company sent a message to the East Harris County Manufacturer’s Association’s emergency response info hotline stating that observers “may notice a bright orange flame, black smoke or a rumbling noise,” but that it was no big deal, and no one in nextdoor Manchester or Deer Park needed to do anything like leave or tape their windows shut this time.
COMMENT OF THE DAY: BOTH OPTIONS FOR DEALING WITH RUN-OF-THE-MILL HOUSTON TOXICITY “My wife, until last May, worked at a school very close to this (but [which] was not mentioned). The air pollution on normal days is so bad that my wife’s doctor suggested that if we wanted to have children that she should think about changing jobs. . . . Attention is only drawn to the problem when major events happen — but perhaps long term effects of living and working in the area are greater ([and] simply tolerated as business as usual). I have said it before, but it is worth mentioning: I called the TCEQ and many agencies during my wife’s time working over there about the pollution . . . they informed me that the area has regularly violated EPA standards and myonly option was to ‘vote for people who careabout government regulation’ of said pollution. Sounds like a tough project!” [Anon, commenting on This Morning’s LyondellBasell Refinery Fire Put Out 19 Hours after Yesterday’s ExxonMobil Refinery Fire] Illustration: Lulu
News choppers milling around the LyondellBasell refinery at 12000 Lawndale St. this morning, just west of the 610 bridge over the Ship Channel, caught some shots of billowing black smoke and flames at the facility, which have since been put out. The company reports that heavy fuel oil and cleaning fluids burned after a Coker unit caught fire around 10AM for reasons yet unknown. The Houston fire department suggested until about 11:15 that folks please stay indoors and try not to let in any fumes in nextdoor Manchester, as well as south and west as far as Park Place Blvd. and Broadway St.; students at nearby Chavez High, Deady Middle School, and Rucker Elementary were also included in the shelter-in-place fun.
After burning for about 2 hours, the fire was put out just before noon — not nearly as speedily as yesterday’s fire at the ExxonMobil refinery in Baytown, which started around 4:40PM and was out by just after 5. That fire’s cause is also unknown; no injuries were reported in either incident.
That’s Galveston Island going for a dip in the before-and-after captures above, from a set of interactive timelapse maps released by the Texas Tribune and ProPublica yesterday (along with several articles by authors Kiah Collier and Neena Satija). The new maps model flooding across the Houston region during Hurricane Ike — as well as what would have happened if Ike had actually hit just south of Houston, as meteorologists initially expected.
The maps are your chance to relive an old disaster, or to see how many of your neighbors you can take out with a hypothetical-but-not-unrealistic future storm: users can pick between Ike,south-er Ike, a storm 15% stronger than Ike (nicknamed Mighty Ike), and a modeled 500-year storm (which the article suggests may actually be a concern on the every-few-decades-or-so level; ‘500-year’ has always meant ‘a low probability in any year’, and climate change is shaking up old modeling assumptions). The graphics also include a few dramatic face-offs: Mighty Ike and the 500-year storm VS. 2 of the miles-long multi-billion-dollar coastal protection projects being studied for the upper Texas coast.
You can even search for your home address in the map system to see what flood levels might look like in your own back yard. Here’s what the maps show happening to the Clear Lake, Seabrook, and League City areas at the peak of the 500-year storm model’s storm surge, which the article says is a “not if, but when” event:
COMMENT OF THE DAY: LIKE THE BAYOUS, HOUSTON OIL DEVELOPMENT FLOWS WEST TO EAST “. . . First, low oil prices are absolutely TERRIBLE for upstream (Schlumberger, Baker Hughes, Fluor, etc). However, it’s not necessarily terrible for downstream. Expensive or cheap, oil has to be refined and there has been no reduction in the demand of downstream products (gas, polymers, aromatics etc). If you know the Houston energy market then you know that Upstream is located heavily in Katy and Sugarland. Downstream is located primarily on the East Side of Houston, with some exceptions (like the EM woodlands campus). More central or (to a degree) eastern housing markets should still see significant demand.
Second, understand that some oil companies move very slowly. Capital expense budgets are planned years in advance. Those don’t necessarily just get ripped up and thrown out the window just because the price of oil has tanked. Yet again, UPSTREAM is definitely cancelling capital left and right, I mean only a moron would drill a new low margin well right now, but Downstream? I believe at least 2 new crackers are coming online this year and a new 500+ kta polymer reactor is as well. Those aren’t stopping, and low oil prices wouldn’t stop them anyways.” [MrEction, commenting on Downtown Foreclosure Auctions in Their Final Year; Bramble’s Debut; Krispy Kreme’s Opening Date] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHY IS ANYONE LIVING THAT CLOSE TO A REFINERY? “Tax policy should probably discourage residential habitation in neighborhoods near the Houston Ship Channel and encourage people to move away from them. As such, giving existing residents or residential property owners a tax cut in order to reward them for residing there or maintaining and leasing housing to other people would be extraordinarily counterproductive and stupid.
Manchester in particular is a neighborhood where the City or State government should seriously consider its options with respect to eminent domain. There’s nothing quite like it anywhere else in the region. Even the furthest north residential bits and pieces of Pasadena are better isolated from refinery activities and more integrated into their city than is Manchester.” [TheNiche, commenting on Baytown Buc-ee’s Is Here; Goodbye Mission Burrito, Hello Überrito Mexican Grill] Illustration: Lulu
Raw helicopter footage from abc13 of the fire currently raging at the Enterprise Products natural gas fractionation facility at 135 Sun Oil Rd., just east of Hwy. 146 in Mont Belvieu. By 3:55 in, the view gets better, and you can hear the commentator noting that the fire was visible from above Hobby Airport, just 30 miles away.
RAINY DAYS AND SUNDAYS ALWAYS GET ME DOWN “So it stinks like something awful again where I am today (the Heights). I look at the calendar and realize it’s been 2 prime dump days in a row, a wet Sunday followed by a national holiday. An old friend of mine who grew up on the east side used to say that a Sunday when it rained was the perfect day for all the refineries to release their nastiest emissions, because the rain masked it and for some reason there wasn’t any enforcement on the weekend. I’m wondering where else in the city it smells like what I’m smelling, and is there any truth to the rainy-day-dump theory? That’s some strong anecdotal evidence in my nostrils.” [Swamplot inbox]
THE LUNCHTIME RACKET AT BRADY’S LANDING Visiting the Houston Ship Channel on a promotional “toxic tour” of sites where the air will likely be invigorated once nearby refineries get chugging on the Canadian tar sands headed for Houston through the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, Perry Dorrell stops by the scenic Brady’s Landing Restaurant during lunchtime: “During the evening the restaurant is like many others in the city: bustling with patrons and staff, the parking lot busy with diner traffic. During the day, however, the region’s oppressive noise is invasive and obnoxious; right next door a facility is dry-docking barges and a team of several men operating industrial-grade pressure washers removes barnacles from their hulls. Cranes swing containers to and from foreign freighters, crashing and booming. The warehouses directly across the channel are beehives of activity, with stevedores operating forklifts, shifting and stacking and slamming pallets of material. It was amazing how loud it was, a phenomenon I never noticed in my visits at night to dine. On the other side of the restaurant a steamshovel was loading and unloading a smoking, 200-hundred-foot high brown pile of … something, fertilizer-like in appearance. No accompanying aroma, fortunately. Maybe we were upwind.” [Brains and Eggs; previously on Swamplot]