Monthly Archives: January 2012

Let’s Resolve to Pollute Less in 2012- Part 2

This blog post is part one of a two part series. See part one.

(Source: US Coast Guards)

Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill- 2010

By far, the most horrific pollution incident over the last decade is the explosion at the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig, where a fire burned for 36 hours before the oil rig sank. Caused by a gas leak, this explosion resulted in hydrocarbons leaking into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days until they were finally sealed off.

Eleven people died and 17 were injured from the explosion. The spill caused extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats and to the Gulf’s fishing and tourism industries. Scientists reported an 80 mile “kill zone” surrounding the well.  Over 400 wildlife species hurt/threatened by the biggest oil spill in U.S. history and the second largest environmental disaster in U.S. history. Almost five million barrels of oil leaked into the ocean before the well was capped on July 15, 2010. The well is dead, but it has left industries and livelihoods on life support in its wake.

Citgo Petroleum Corporation- 2007

At the Citgo East Plant refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas, state inspectors found during an unannounced visit that the organization was operating open top tanks as oil water separators without first installing emission controls for benzene required by federal and state regulations. The inspectors found 4.5 million gallons of oil in two 12 million-gallon tanks; these tanks accounted for more than 57 metric tons of benzene in the waste streams, which are exposed to the air. Federal regulations limit refineries to operate with 6 or less metric tons of benzene in their exposed waste streams.

 As a result, Citgo was indicted for the lack of emissions controls and for failing to identify all of the points in the refinery wastewater system where benzene was generated in a report to the TCEQ.  This case is still ongoing; however, if Citgo is found guilty, the company could face up to $500,000 fines for each of the 10 counts of environmental violations at the refinery. Residents near the plant are paying careful attention to the outcome of the case; many of them believe the dangerous benzene emissions are responsible for their health problems. The Houston Chronicle spoke with Kimberly Curiel, a resident in the area. "Cancer, cancer, cancer," she said, pointing to a string of houses on her old street where neighbors have fallen ill. "That just doesn't happen very often."

Air Products and Chemical Plant- 2010

On February 16, 2010, the Air Products and Chemical Plant shut down due to a pipe leak after a unit tripped offline. This leak emitted an orange cloud of nitric acid, a toxic irritant, over Highway 225, an area with heavy traffic. The City of Pasadena officials initially claimed “there was no danger to the public”. However, several individuals who came in contact with the nitric acid cloud were sent to the hospital after they had trouble breathing.

Nitric acid is a dangerous colorless, highly corrosive liquid which can cause severe burns and irritation to the eyes. The city shut down Highway 225 for several hours and issued a shelter in place until the leak could be contained and the plant was secured.

BP Refinery in Texas City- 2011

In November 2011, there were reports of gas leaks at a BP refinery in Texas City, the third largest refinery in the U.S. A caller initially reported a sulfur dioxide leak to the National Response Center. There is some confusion on the extent of the sulfur dioxide leak, since BP claims the report was not made by a company employee. However, BP did confirm an ongoing leak of methyl mercaptan, a smelly gas added to natural gas as a safety measure; the odor was bad enough that 30 workers from a neighboring plant downwind were taken to the hospital. Texas City Emergency Manager and Homeland Security Director Bruce Clawson said of the gas leaking from the plant, “It smells ugly and makes you sick. It’s not a small matter.”

Magnablend Chemical Plant Fire- 2011

As we told you late last year, a fire broke out at Magnablend, Inc. on October 3, 2011 in Waxahachie, Texas that was caused by blending of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluid. This led to the evacuation for an apartment complex, an elementary school, a junior college and nearly 1,000 residents who live close to the chemical plant.

Upon further investigation, officials discovered that neither EPA officials nor the Waxahachie Fire Rescue team were aware of what Magnablend produced at the plant and that a risk management plan had not been filed for the facility. The TCEQ issued an air pollution watch level orange for that day.

We Need Better Solutions and to Increase Prevention Efforts

Within Region VI of EPA, which includes Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Arkansas, there is an average of one shelter in place a week due to upset events at different facilities. One a week! While a rare disaster may be unavoidable, most of these terrible pollution events are completely preventable. These disasters are unfortunate and cause severe damage to our health and our environment. My hopes for this year are that we will resolve to lower the number of pollution events through strict air quality standards, strong rules in place for construction and operation of chemical facilities, and harsh penalties to encourage companies to keep our air and water clean and safe.

I am thrilled to see the recent passage of new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards by the EPA. Let’s keep up this great momentum throughout the next decade and prevent disasters like these from destroying our environment and contributing to increased public health risks. 

Posted in Air Pollution, Environmental Protection Agency, GHGs, Oil / Read 2 Responses

Let’s Resolve to Pollute Less in 2012- Part 1

This blog post is part one of a two part series.


2011 was a year for extreme weather in Texas; epic wildfires and extreme drought have left Texas in a state of repair. As the fervor of our adherence to New Year’s resolutions may be starting to fade, I ask that we hold steady in the fight against harmful air pollution. As the heart of the energy sector, Texas pumps more benzene and other hazardous air pollutants into the air than any other state in the nation. And shelter in places and emergency responses happen way more often than they should. In thinking about the New Year and our resolutions for 2012, let’s remember how pollution and our actions affect our precious resources and climate. And let’s not forget the pollution events that occurred in the Lone Star state, and think about how we can do better.

Below is a list of some of the top environmental pollution events in Texas over the last decade:

Flint Hills Resources Benzene Spill- 2001

Koch Petroleum Group (now Flint Hills Resources) pled guilty in April 2001 to lying about benzene emissions coming from its petroleum plant located in Corpus Christi, Texas. Benzene is a known carcinogen, which can cause leukemia and other cancers. In 1995, Koch environmental technician Sally Barnes-Soliz found 91 tons of benzene emissions from the petroleum plant in Corpus, more than 15 times the legal limit. However, Koch only reported 0.61 tons of benzene the following year, 1/149 of the actual emissions found. Barnes-Soliz reported the falsification to the government and, as a result, Koch was charged $20 million in fines and penalties. The company earned a reported $176 million in profit from the plant in 1995; it is estimated to have cost only $7 million to comply with the Benzene emission standards.

BP Refinery in Texas City- 2005

On March 23, 2005, an explosion killed 15 employees and injured 170 as a result of workers re-starting a unit at the BP refinery that had been closed for repairs, an extremely dangerous process. The problem started when workers filled a tank with 138 feet of flammable liquid, when it should have only been filled with 6.5 feet of liquid. The window in the tower that should have let workers know the tank was too full was too dirty to see through and safety devices that should have sounded an alarm failed.

Upon further investigation, it was discovered that BP had cut costs, resulting in risky working conditions, which were likely the cause of the catastrophic event. An investigation by the Chemical Safety Board found numerous problems including out of date equipment, corroded pipes, and faulty safety alarms. This explosion has been characterized as the worst workplace incident in the U.S. from 1989 up until 2005.

Arsenic Contamination of Drinking Water- 2009

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality foundthat 120 water utility systems across the state were not in compliance with the EPA standard for arsenic in 2009. Arsenic is a naturally occurring element in rocks and soil; it can contaminate drinking water as a result of mining runoff, erosion of natural deposits, emissions from glass and electronic processing and the use of compounds containing arsenic (ex: wood pesticides).

While most drinking water naturally has a small amount of arsenic, larger amounts resulting from improper disposal of industrial wastes can lead to lung cancer, bladder cancer and gangrene. Since 2004, the state of Texas has had 596 violations for arsenic levels over the maximum limit in drinking water. You can see a list of the top 10 most polluted communities for arsenic in Texas here.

American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO)- 2009

The ASARCO plant was built in El Paso in 1887. In the 1970s, a study by the Centers for Disease Control foundthat the plant was responsible for high levels of lead in children living near the facility. The copper smelter site contaminated the air with a variety of chemicals including lead, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, selenium, and zinc. Specifically, the study found over half of the children living within a mile of the smelter had levels of lead in their blood four times the limit considered acceptable by the EPA.

Research shows that even small amounts of lead in a child’s blood system can cause nervous system damage, neurological disorders, loss of IQ points, lowered attention spans, behavioral problems, and even an increase in delinquency. In February 2009, ASARCO closed the El Paso plant permanently after EPA intervened. To settle claims for hazardous pollution, ASARCO is in the process of paying $1.8 billion over the course of several years for environmental cleanup at more than 80 sites across the country, including the El Paso plant.

We will publish part two of this post on Wednesday, January 25.

Posted in Air Pollution, Environmental Protection Agency, GHGs / Comments are closed

Shutting Down Dirty Coal


This commentary was originally posted on the EDF Energy Exchange Blog by Michael Regan.

EDF helped write another chapter in the history book on polluting coal generation this week. Along with our partners, we announced a settlement with North Carolina-based Duke Energy that will legally require the utility to retire more than 1,600 megawatts of coal-fired generation.

The retiring plants represent about 4.5 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), 30,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and over 5,000 tons of nitrogen dioxide (NOx) annually. People who live near or downwind of one of those plants have reason to celebrate.

Retiring the oldest, dirtiest and least efficient facilities requires Duke Energy to head toward cleaner generation and modernization of its fleet. That's good news for everyone, considering Duke’s proposed merger with Progress Energy will create the largest utility in the country.

Posted in Air Pollution, Coal, GHGs / Comments are closed

Demand Response: A Key Component In Texas’ Electricity Market. Why Isn’t The State Taking Advantage Of It?

This commentary was originally posted on the EDF Energy Exchange Blog.

On Monday, the Texas Senate Business and Commerce Committee took up the critical issue of the impact of extreme drought conditions on electric generation capacity and state officials’ plans to respond to those risks. A number of important issues and policy solutions were raised, from on-bill financing of energy efficiency to renewable energy to send the right ‘market signals’ to incentivize the construction of new power plants. Public Utility Commission (PUC) Chair Donna Nelson singled out, in particular, the state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy goals. These policies have helped reduce pollution, saved customers money and have the added benefit of reducing our dependence on water for electricity production.

Another important part of the solution discussed was raised by a number of panelists: demand response (aka load management). The ability of end-use customers to reduce their use of electricity in response to power grid needs or economic signals has helped the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) avoid rolling blackouts and, in other regions of the country, it has helped markets avoid the need for new capacity. As ERCOT CEO Trip Doggett and PUC Chair Nelson pointed out in their testimony, demand response is a market competitive resource that uses no water and, as such, it may prove to be a valuable resource in view of the state's record drought.

The Texas Capacity Crunch – Obstacles and Opportunities
The historic drought of 2010-2011 has put Texas' conventional power plants at risk, threatening a return of the rolling blackouts caused by extreme winter conditions just a year ago. State Climatologist, Perry appointee John Nielsen-Gammon says, “Statistically we are more likely to see a third year of drought.”

At the same time, ERCOT faces a challenging capacity crunch caused largely by “low natural gas prices, an influx of low marginal cost wind power, increased wholesale market efficiencies, low wholesale power prices, tight credit markets” and other issues according to TXU Energy. With limited ability to invest new capital given the current market conditions, and over 11,000 MW of power dependent on water sources at historically low levels, Texas needs to tap into resources that can be deployed rapidly and require less capital and much less water.

Demand Response – Low Cost, Zero Water Resource
Fortunately Texas has ample resources to meet these needs with demand response. If allowed to participate fully in Texas’ energy markets as it does in other regions, demand response can benefit customers and increase grid reliability. Unfortunately Texas continues to lag behind other states and regions, which have seen market-competitive demand response grow rapidly as market barriers have been removed.

    • The definition of “demand response” is “end-use customers reducing their use of electricity in response to power grid needs or economic signals from a competitive wholesale market.”
    • The potential for cost competitive demand response is tremendous – according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Texas could add as much as 19 GW in capacity by 2019 if we open up our electric market to allow customers to compete alongside generators.

Texas currently is among the lowest states in terms of load management, despite having the highest potential by far according to FERC and the Brattle Group.

Source: FERC

Why Does Texas Lag the Nation in Demand Response?

  • In 2011, demand response amounted to 9% of the PJM’s (a grid operator in the Mid-Atlantic/Midwest) system peak demand, greatly benefitting customers and improving reliability.
  • At ERCOT, despite great potential, demand response only amounted to just over 2% of peak demand, limited by unnecessary market barriers.
  • Texas leads the nation in smart meter deployment, intended by the legislature to “facilitate demand response initiatives.” Why is ERCOT so far behind?

Market Barriers Prevent Customers from Competing in ERCOT

  • ERCOT’s legacy demand response program is capped at 1150 MW and is effectively limited to large industrials within ancillary services markets.
  • ERCOT’s Emergency Reliability Service is the only program in the market that allows any customer to participate if they qualify. The program is limited in scope (it can only be called on twice per year) and to date has been unable to reach the original goal of 500 MW. Despite these limitations, the program helped avoid rolling blackouts last summer.

Source: NERC

Regulators are Focused on Building New Power Plants

  • Instead of looking to all possible solutions, regulators seem focused only on how to get new power plants built.
  • Other grid operators have successfully created programs for smaller commercial and residential customers to compete through aggregation. In Texas, residential and small commercial customers have been put on the back burner.
  • Despite the PUC’s reluctance to act on other clean energy opportunities, such as the 500 MW non-wind RPS or increasing the energy efficiency standards, it is clear that these programs have been successful in creating clean, “water-proof” power.
  • In the midst of a capacity crunch caused by extreme drought and market structure problems, demand response provides an opportunity to address both by enabling cheaper, water-free capacity by simply opening markets to customers.
Posted in Renewable Energy, Smart Grid / Comments are closed

EPA Rolls Out New Online Tool that Discloses Major Sources of Climate Pollution

 The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a new online tool today which provides data about pollution emissions for the country’s largest industrial emitters of greenhouse gases (GHG). Together, these industry sources are responsible for billions of tons of climate disrupting pollution. This will be the first time that this data is publicly available and will inform Americans about the heat-trapping greenhouse gases emitted in their communities.


 EDF attorney Peter Zalzal sums up our enthusiasm for this new tool. “Americans have a right to know about the pollution in their air. This greenhouse gas emissions data promotes transparency and provides a strong foundation for Americans to work together in deploying smart climate policies.”

 Who and What is Included

The consumer friendly web platform will provide climate pollution data for 8,000 industrial facilities including cement, iron and steel producers, petroleum refiners, and pulp and paper manufacturing. The data is based on 2010 annual pollution discharges. The tool includes major industrial sources that emit 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent or more per year.  This 25,000 ton annual carbon dioxide threshold is comparable to the emissions from 131 rail cars of coal consumed or 58,000 barrels of oil consumed.

 The data for direct GHG emitters show that in 2010:

    • Power plants were the largest stationary source of direct U.S. GHG emissions with 2,324 million metric tons of CO2, followed by refineries with 183 million metric tons of CO2e.
    • CO2 emissions accounted for largest share of direct emissions with 95 percent, followed by methane with 4 percent, and nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases representing the remaining 1 percent.
    • 100 facilities each reported emissions over 7 million metric tons of CO2, including 96 power plants, 2 iron and steel mills and 2 refineries.
Emissions of the following climate-disrupting pollutants would be disclosed: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride, and other fluorinated gases.  
The facilities in Texas that reported the largest emissions are:
Facility City State Total Reported Emissions (MMT CO2) Sectors 
ExxonMobil BT SiteBaytownTX




Power Plants
Martin LakeTatumTX


Power Plants
MonticelloMount PleasantTX


Power Plants
Sam SeymourLa GrangeTX


Power Plants
W A ParishThompsonsTX


Power Plants
Welsh Power PlantPittsburgTX


Power Plants

How This Data can be Used

You can search and sort information by geographic area and type of industry, and compare emissions among facilities. Additionally, you can also share this information on social media channels, such as Facebook or Twitter.


 This new pollution information is important because provides policymakers with crucial data to design solutions to reduce global warming. It also strengthens corporate governance and sustainability through providing rigorous data that tracks pollution data for comparison between facilities. Lastly, it provides investors with transparent information and will identify companies that are leading the way in reducing climate pollution and those who are lagging behind.

 Check out the new EPA web platform today and find out about pollution in your community.

Posted in Air Pollution, Climate Change, Environmental Protection Agency, GHGs / Comments are closed

Switch Is Flipped In Webberville, Texas: 30 MW Of Solar Now Online

 This commentary was originally posted on the EDF Energy Exchange Blog.

 Driving through the bustle of downtown Austin, past the sleepy, revitalizing East Side, one reaches the pastures and prairie countryside of Travis County. It is on this thirteen mile trek, the smell of wood smoking BBQ wafting the air that you come to the village of Webberville.

 While the settlement dates back to 1827, it is Webberville’s modern day activity that will put it on the map. Friday morning, SunEdison along with the mayor of Webberville, the City of Austin, and Austin Energy held the grand opening ceremony and ribbon cutting for the Webberville Solar Project. Webberville Mayor Hector Gonzales summed it up well, stating that today the “past shakes hands with the future.”

 With its “rough reputation” dubbing it Hell’s Half Acre, Webberville now has 380 acres of solar generating power to add to its claim to fame. The 127, 728 panels will ultimately generate 30 MW of solar energy and will offset 1.6 billion pounds of carbon dioxide over the next 25 years.  The facility utilizes solar PV technology that is mounted on horizontal-axis trackers rotating in the East-West directions with the sun’s position in the sky to optimize electricity production.

 All of this translates to producing enough electricity to power 5,000 average-size homes annually. The launch contributes to Austin Energy’s generation goal of 35% renewable energy by 2020 and creates green jobs for the area. “It is the largest active solar project of any public power utility in the country, the largest active project in Texas and among the largest of all operating solar projects in America.

 If there are two things in Texas that we have plenty of, besides oil and gas, it’s sunshine and pride and we are proud to have this solar farm on our soil.

Posted in Solar / Comments are closed