Tank fail­ures in Har­vey re­veal vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties dur­ing storms

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL - By Matthew Brown and Larry Fenn As­so­ci­ated Press

More than two dozen stor­age tanks holding crude oil, ga­so­line and other con­tam­i­nants rup­tured or oth­er­wise failed when Har­vey slammed into the Texas coast, spilling at least 145,000 gal­lons of fuel and spew­ing toxic pol­lu­tants into the air, ac­cord­ing to an As­so­ci­ated Press analysis of pol­lu­tion re­ports sub­mit­ted to state and fed­eral reg­u­la­tors.

The tank fail­ures fol­low years of warn­ings that the Hous­ton area’s petro­chem­i­cal in­dus­try was ill-pre­pared for a ma­jor storm, with about one-third of the 4,500 stor­age tanks along the Hous­ton Ship Chan­nel lo­cated in ar­eas sus­cep­ti­ble to flood­ing, ac­cord­ing to re­searchers.

More of the mas­sive stor­age tanks could be put to the test in com­ing days as Hur­ri­cane Irma bears down on Florida. The tanks are prone to float and break dur­ing floods, and Har­vey’s un­prece­dented rain­falls re­vealed a new vul­ner­a­bil­ity when the roofs of some stor­age tanks sank un­der the weight of so much wa­ter.

Fed­eral and state rules re­quire com­pa­nies to be pre­pared for spills, but man­date no spe­cific mea­sures to se­cure stor­age tanks at re­finer­ies, chem­i­cal plants and oil pro­duc­tion sites.

Al­though Florida has no oil re­finer- ies, it has more than 20 pe­tro­leum prod­uct stor­age ter­mi­nals in coastal com­mu­ni­ties and about 30 chem­i­cal com­pa­nies with a pres­ence in the state, in­clud­ing a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of fa­cil­i­ties in the Tampa Bay area, ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can Chem­istry Coun­cil and U.S. En­ergy In­for­ma­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“Tampa Bay is one of the most vul­ner­a­ble cities in the coun­try” to hur­ri­canes, said John Par­due, a Louisiana State Univer­sity pro­fes­sor who has re­searched prob­lems with stor­age tanks dur­ing storms.

“But there’s no re­quire­ment that says when you’re in a hur­ri­cane zone you’ve got to do things dif­fer­ently,” Par­due added. “If we’re go­ing to con­tinue to put some of these fa­cil­i­ties in harm’s way, it would be great to have some spe­cific reg­u­la­tions” to safe­guard stor­age tanks.

The storm surge from Har­vey was small enough that the re­finer­ies in the Hous­ton Ship Chan­nel ap­pear to have avoided the huge spills as­so­ci­ated with past storms such as Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina, when rup­tured stor­age tanks re­leased sev­eral mil­lions of gal­lons of oil in­clud­ing into res­i­den­tial ar­eas, ac­cord­ing to Jamie Pad­gett, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at Rice Univer­sity who has in­ven­to­ried the Hous­ton Ship Chan­nel’s stor­age tanks.

Tom Fox / The Dal­las Morn­ing News via AP

Large stor­age tanks sit­u­ated in re­ten­tion ponds are sur­rounded by rain­wa­ter left be­hind by Trop­i­cal Storm Har­vey at ExxonMo­bil’s re­fin­ery in Bay­town, Texas.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.