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Restarting Chemical Plants After a Storm Means Enormous Gas Leaks

Undamaged facilities in Texas released a year’s worth of unauthorized emissions by shutting down and restarting for Hurricane Laura.

The Motiva Refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, on Aug. 25, before the arrival of Hurricane Laura.

The Motiva Refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, on Aug. 25, before the arrival of Hurricane Laura.

Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

In the chaos surrounding Hurricane Laura, a sprawling chemical plant in Port Arthur, Texas, released nearly 90 tons of emissions, including a half ton of cancer-causing benzene and 8.7 tons of planet-warming nitrous oxide. The leaks reported to state regulators in two days totaled more than the facility, Motiva Chemical, had in unauthorized emissions in all of 2018.  

Unlike some the fossil-fuel infrastructure located in the path of the storm, there was no fire or other major damage to Motiva’s complex in Port Arthur, which includes the largest oil refinery in the U.S. These emissions come from just stopping and restarting petrochemical plants to defend against dangerous storms.