Oil refineries in Texas, United States released tons of air pollutants into the skies this week.
Total pollution at Houston area facilities during the cold snap totalled approximately 703,000 pounds, about 3% of the total pollution over permitted amounts for all of 2019 and almost 10% of 2018’s releases, according to Texas Commission on Environment Quality (TCEQ).
Refiners and petrochemical plants along the U.S. Gulf Coast scrambled to shut production as an arctic air mass spread into a region unused to frigid temperatures.
The extreme cold, which killed at least two dozen people in Texas and knocked out power to more than 4 million at its peak, also hit natural gas and electric generation, cutting supplies needed to run the plants.
Shutdowns led to the refineries flaring, or burning and releasing gases, to prevent damage to their processing units. That flaring darkened the skies in eastern Texas with smoke visible for miles.
“These emissions can dwarf the usual emissions of the refineries by orders of magnitude,” said Jane Williams, chair of the Sierra Club’s National Clean Air Team.
She said U.S. regulators must change policies that allow “these massive emissions to occur with impunity.”