This week, the largest oil refineries in Texas released tons of air pollutants into the skies. The five largest oil refiners alone emitted close to 337,000 pounds of pollutants as the figures provided to the state. This included carbon monoxide, benzene, hydrogen sulfide, and sulfur dioxide. In Houston, over 703,000 pounds of pollutants from various energy facilities were burned off last week.
As per the reports by The Guardian, Jane Williams, chair of the Sierra Club’s national clean air team, said that the US regulators must change policies that allow these emissions ‘to occur with impunity’. The Texas Commission on Environment Quality in a filing with Valero Energy said that it released 78,000 pounds over 24 hours beginning on 15 February from its Port Arthur refinery. This was due to the extreme cold conditions and interruptions in utility services.
The Motiva’s Port Arthur released 118,100 pounds of emissions between February 15 and 18. This was more than three times the excess emissions that it declared to the US Environmental Protection Agency for the entire 2019. On February 15, Marathon Petroleum’s Galveston Bay Refinery released 14,255 pounds over less than five hours. This is equivalent to 10 per cent of its total releases above permitted levels in 2019. According to the reports by The Guardian, Sharon Wilson, a researcher at advocacy group Earthworks said that the releases were ‘alarming’ because there is no ‘safe amount of benzene for human exposure’.
Texas is known for its sprawling deserts and excruciating heatwaves, however, right now, the US state is blanketed in a thick layer of ice. Power outages, caused by a combination of high demand, power plants crippled by the weather, and a grid that is cut off from the rest of the country, have left millions of people shivering in the dark. The state is seeing some of its coldest temperatures in more than 30 years, with some areas even breaking records that are more than a century old. The US President Joe Biden has already declared a state of emergency as for the first time, winter-storm warnings are in place in all 254 counties.
The US National Weather Service (NWS) explained that the boiling state is suddenly freezing over because of an “Arctic outbreak” that originated just about the US-Canada border, bringing a winter snowstorm as well as plummeting temperatures. The meteorologists explained that the extreme pattern was initiated by a large and recognizable phenomenon called ‘Sudden Stratospheric Warming’, or SSW. Texans’ current chill was caused by rapid heating in the stratosphere, the second-lowest section of the atmosphere, 8-50km above the Arctic.