This Week in Texas Energy: EPA Opens Investigation Into Crosby Arkema Plant
Plus: Houston’s Galena Park neighborhood deals with a massive oil spill after Harvey, Exxon loses a fight to keep documents secret in New York’s climate change fraud probe, and the chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission is running for re-election.
The Environmental Protection Agency is investigating whether Arkema followed safety rules at its plant in Crosby, after chemical containers exploded and were on fire for days when the facility sustained damage during flooding from Hurricane Harvey. According to Reuters, the EPA sent Arkema a letter asking for information on whether the plant had followed chemical accident prevention rules and the Clean Air Act. “We warned the public well in advance that fires would occur and of the danger of breathing the smoke from the fires at our site,” Arkema spokeswoman Janet Smith told Reuters on Monday. “We pleaded with the public, for their own safety, to respect the 1.5-mile evacuation zone imposed by the unified command well prior to any fire.” The investigation comes as Arkema also faces a lawsuit filed by a group of first responders, who allege the company owes them $1 million in damages after they were injured following exposure to chemicals from the plant. The suit was filed last Thursday in Harris County. “Immediately upon being exposed to the fumes from the explosions, and one by one, the police officers and first responders began to fall ill in the middle of the road,” the lawsuit states, according to the Houston Chronicle. “The scene was nothing less than chaos. Police officers were doubled over vomiting, unable to breathe.”
The Big Spill
The U.S. Coast Guard and Environmental Protection Agency is reportedly cleaning up about a dozen oil and chemical spills across the state after Harvey, but the worst one may be in Galena Park, a Houston neighborhood nearby where a half million gallons of gasoline spilled from a storage tank complex operated by Oklahoma pipeline company Magellan Midstream Partners. According to the Houston Chronicle, the Galena Park spill was more than five times as big as every other spill reported in Texas during Harvey combined. Residents suspected something was up because the air reeked of oil and their eyes burned whenever they went outside. But they were kept in the dark by state and federal officials for nearly two weeks, according to the Chronicle. Magellan employees notified the EPA, the Coast Guard, the Texas Railroad Commission, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, but the only public record of the spill showed up in searchable online databases. Both the Railroad Commission and TCEQ told the Chronicle that they knew about the spill, but didn’t publicize it. The EPA released a statement on Tuesday, saying it doesn’t think the spill will have negative environmental or health effects. As the Chronicle notes, the EPA’s statement came only after the Associated Press broke the news of the spill on Monday.
Exxon Takes a Loss
On Tuesday, New York’s highest court dealt Exxon a blow in its fight against the state attorney general’s fraud investigation into the Dallas-based oil giant’s positions on climate change, reaffirming a ruling that forces Exxon to comply with a subpoena asking for audit documents, according to Bloomberg. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has been investigating Exxon since 2015, probing whether Exxon misled investors about the impact of climate change on the energy company’s business. Schneiderman had sued Exxon and its outside auditor, PricewaterhouseCoopers, requesting documents about “the accounting and reporting of oil and gas reserves, the evaluation of assets for potential impairment charges or write-downs, as well as energy-price projections and projected carbon-cost estimates,” according to Bloomberg. Exxon had argued that Texas law protected the documents under a law similar to attorney-client privilege, but the New York Court of Appeals refused to hear those arguments. As InsideClimate News notes, the documents in question be pretty damaging for Exxon, as they may show “private calculations of the business risks posed by climate change and whether its auditors had any concerns about how it disclosed those risks to investors.”
The chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission is running for re-election in 2018. Christi Craddick announced on Monday that she will seek another term at the helm of the three-member commission, which oversees the state’s oil and gas industry. “During my first term at the Railroad Commission, I oversaw a modernization of the agency and provided common sense regulatory oversight of a robust energy industry while carefully balancing our state’s economic and environmental concerns,” Craddick said in a news release, according to the Texas Tribune. “I am respectfully asking the voters of Texas to re-elect me to a second term.” Craddick was first elected in 2012, and she’s the only member of the commission up for re-election next year. According to the Tribune, it looks like Craddick will cruise to the Republican nomination before facing off against Democrat Roman McAllen, who serves as the city of Denton’s historic preservation officer.