Texas Clean Air Matters

In Permian, company leadership and state standards are critical for reducing oil and gas methane emissions

By Jon Goldstein and Colin Leyden 

This May, ExxonMobil, the world’s largest publicly traded oil and gas company, announced targets to limit methane waste from its global operations. We’ve also seen commitments to cut methane from a range of leading companies like BP and others.

But as more companies step forward with methane targets, it begs the question: Is voluntary action from companies enough to move the needle on methane? A look at what could become the world’s largest oil field points to the answer being a solid no.

A Permian problem

The Permian Basin has become a major focus of industry development, with Exxon itself stating it plans to triple its presence there by 2025. According to IHS Markit, the Permian contains 60-70 billion barrels of recoverable oil, which is worth approximately $3.3 trillion at current prices. The Permian is in the running to become the world’s largest oil field over the next decade. Read More »

Posted in Methane, Natural gas, Oil / Comments are closed

Texans urge Gov. Abbott to act on storm-related air pollution before the next Harvey

With the start of this year’s hurricane season, Environmental Defense Fund and our partners in the Houston-based One Breath Partnership delivered a letter signed by more than 3,000 Texans and 20 organizations to Gov. Greg Abbott, urging him to act now to protect people from harmful air pollution before the next storm.

The letter to Gov. Abbott comes after Hurricane Harvey unleashed a second storm of air pollution. By industry’s own estimates, the Houston region’s network of oil refineries and petrochemical plants released more than 2 million pounds of harmful chemicals into the air during and after the storm – the equivalent of six months’ worth of unauthorized air pollution in just a few days.

Many industrial plants in Harvey’s path released extra pollutants into the air when they shut down in preparation for the storm and when they resumed operations. For example, Chevron Phillips’ Cedar Bayou chemical plant in Baytown reported releasing roughly 750,000 pounds of excess emissions, including smog-forming volatile organic compounds.

Harvey damaged other facilities, allowing hazardous gases to escape. EDF and Houston officials, for example, detected alarmingly high levels of benzene in Manchester, a neighborhood adjacent to a storm-damaged Valero Energy refinery. In Crosby, explosions at a flooded chemical plant triggered an evacuation of nearby residents and sent emergency workers to hospitals. Yet, for all the attention the Arkema episode received, industry reports showed that there were 10 larger releases of air pollution because of storm damage, an EDF analysis found.

“TCEQ was unprepared to track Harvey’s air pollution in real time,” said Elena Craft, senior health scientist at EDF. “Although TCEQ has dozens of stationary monitors across Houston, many of them were turned off during the storm. That is why mobile, on-the-ground monitoring is so crucial. We need to be sure that the agency is there when it is needed, doing its job to protect the people from exposure to different environmental threats.” Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Environmental Justice, Extreme Weather, Houston, Legislation, TCEQ, Uncategorized / Comments are closed

With hurricane season approaching, Texas should heed Harvey’s warning on climate change

The 2018 hurricane season is just around the corner – June 1st, in fact.

Initial predictions for this year’s season say we should expect it to be more active than average, which is unwelcome news to a state that is still reeling from Hurricane Harvey. And, while some areas are bracing for more hurricanes before they’ve even recovered from the last one, the majority of the state is already back in drought.

The weather rollercoaster that Texas has always ridden is getting more intense, thanks in large part to climate change. Not only is climate change real and happening, but Texas will be among the areas hardest hit economically by its effects. Put simply, our state can no longer afford not to act on climate change.

Over the past few months, we have been looking at issues related to Hurricane Harvey, like how the storm wreaked havoc on people’s health and how the state can better invest in coastal resilience.

With all of this in mind, the Texas Legislative Session is about six months away – and the Lone Star State should heed Harvey’s lessons. Read More »

Posted in Climate Change, ERCOT, Extreme Weather / Tagged | Comments are closed

Houston's smog won't go away without EPA's help

Manchester County refineries. Houston, Texas.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently gave Houston three years to meet health-based limits for ground-level ozone, or smog. While it is a good goal, the six-county region cannot achieve it without the agency taking aggressive steps to reduce air pollution.

Unfortunately, we are not seeing EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt take those steps. He is moving in the other direction, promoting policies that will increase smog-forming pollution in Houston and beyond.

Here are three realities about Houston’s stubborn smog problem:

Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Houston, Ozone, Uncategorized / Read 1 Response

Closing the information gap on Texans’ energy burdens

As summer approaches in Texas, it may be hard to recall that just this January, temperatures hovered at or below freezing for as long as 64 straight hours. Texans used the most electricity ever over the course of one hour, setting a record in energy use as people reached for their thermostats and cranked the heat. For some in the state, however, this was simply not an option.

People in the lowest income brackets regularly have to choose between keeping their homes at a comfortable temperature and other everyday necessities, like putting food on the table – especially in a state like Texas with extreme temperatures. Low-income households that heat with electricity spend four times more on utility bills, as a percent of their income, compared to the average American. This “energy burden” (the percent of a person’s income spent on energy) highlights the devastating reality that many people face, as well as presents an opportunity for cleaner, smarter energy to help lower electricity bills.

Enter the Texas Energy Poverty Research Institute, or TEPRI, a nonprofit organization seeking to first understand the burden that energy costs place on low-income households, and then propose practical, equitable solutions. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is proudly partnering with TEPRI to advance this mission, starting with conducting a sociodemographic study to provide a detailed understanding of Texans with low incomes and their relationship to energy. Read More »

Posted in clean energy, Energy Efficiency / Tagged | Comments are closed

Investing in a strong foundation for energy resilience in Texas

By Ronny Sandoval, Kate Zerrenner

Eight months after Hurricane Harvey, affected communities are still rebuilding their lives and businesses.

One area that hasn’t required as much attention to rebuild: Texas’ electricity grid. Shortly after the storm, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state’s main grid operator, said, “The ERCOT grid has remained stable, and competitive electricity markets have continued to operate normally.” That said, nearly 300,000 consumers were without power during the storm’s peak. Therefore, the state’s electricity restoration after Harvey is a story of resilience – and an opportunity to do better the next time around.

Though the impact and $125 billion in damages that Harvey caused were catastrophic, some of the investments and decisions made in Texas well before the storm allowed for faster restoration of power than would have been the case just a few years prior. Plus, renewable energy resources like wind turbines and solar panels can play a role in strengthening grid resilience. Investments in modern technologies – like digital controls, microgrids, and distributed energy – hold the keys to protecting people in towns and cities most susceptible to future powerful storms, and they provide insights for how Texas can prepare for the next power disruption. Read More »

Posted in clean energy, Renewable Energy / Tagged | Comments are closed