‘Unplanned operational issue’ prompted flaring, at plant just fined by Feds

Chevron Phillips Chemical fined $3.4 for air quality issues already this year

BAYTOWN, Texas – An investigation is underway after flaring and smoke was reported at the Chevron Phillips Chemical Company facility in Baytown Tuesday, emergency officials said.

According to officials with the Community Awareness Emergency Response, the plant, which is located at 9500 Interstate 10 East, experienced an “unplanned operational issue due to a power outage” around 9:30 a.m.

An all-clear was given around 9:00 p.m. Tuesday.

“At approximately 9:15 a.m. today, the Chevron Phillips Chemical Cedar Bayou facility in Baytown, Texas, experienced unplanned operational impacts due to loss of power from the utility provider. As a result, flaring and smoke were visible at the facility. An all-clear notice has now been issued. There were no employee or contractor injuries and no danger to the surrounding community. Flaring is a safety relief mechanism designed to help mitigate emissions. The Harris County Pollution Control Services Department conducted air monitoring around and downwind of the facility, and we are advised that no community impacts were detected. We thank the local emergency response agencies and community officials for their support and apologize for any inconvenience this event may have caused,” a spokesperson with the company said.

PHOTOS: Aerial images of Baytown after flaring at Chevron Phillips facility

EXPLAINER: What is ‘flaring’ at chemical plants?

According to the Community Awareness Emergency Response message issued by Chevron Phillips Chemical Company, the company said, “there is no danger to plant employees or the community.”

Baytown Emergency Management officials said air quality monitoring has been happening from the Harris County Pollution Control and no hazardous readings have been reported. Harris County Hazmat remains at the scene.

At 12 p.m., the Centerpoint Baytown Service Area said a third-party crane operator had an incident near I-10 and 146 that took down a transmission line. It impacted seven distribution circuits and the Mont Belvieu substation, officials said.

Power has reportedly been restored at Chevron Phillips and to most of the outage area north of I-10.

“Texas Commission on Environmental Quality sent the following statement regarding the incident:

TCEQ’s regional office and the county are aware that the Chevron Phillips Chemical Cedar Bayou Plant had a power outage today. The entity provided a Chemtel report and a National Response Center report identifying the plantwide power outage and the control actions being taken (e.g., flaring) at the facility. The initial reporting was done as the entity anticipated the potential for exceeding reportable quantities.

The local area downwind is rural and not populated (winds out of the south). There was no shelter in place established at the facility. The entity is conducting perimeter fence line air monitoring and will contact the ERC if they detect any readings above background. The facility provided an update at 3:35 pm that the plant is continuing to restore normal process operations and flaring has been significantly reduced.

There were no elevated readings at the nearest stationary monitor: Wallisville Road [24] Daily Summary (texas.gov)

Chevron Phillips was just fined by Department of Justice in March

A news release spelled out the problem and the solution, in the federal government’s view.

The Cedar Bayou facility was among three Chevron Phillips plants found in violation of the Clean Air Act:

“Chevron Phillips Chemical Company LP has agreed to make upgrades and perform compliance measures estimated to cost $118 million to resolve allegations that it violated the Clean Air Act and state air pollution control laws at three petrochemical manufacturing facilities located in Cedar Bayou, Port Arthur, and Sweeney, Texas. Chevron Phillips will also pay a $3.4 million civil penalty. The settlement will eliminate thousands of tons of air pollution from flares.”

The agreement and fine were reached before the Supreme Court of the United States limited the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce the Clean Air Act. It is not yet clear if the solution will remain intact.

A local environmental group, concerned chiefly with communities on the doorsteps of sprawling refineries and plants near the ship channel expressed concern, Friday.

“This [the flaring] is exactly why we need this type of oversight to make sure those commitments stay true,” Yvette Arellano, founder of Fenceline Watch, said.

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