Oil field (Image: Flickr user johnny choura, used under CC license)Enlarge Photo
Hurricane Harvey will go down as one of the most destructive and costliest natural disasters in the United States.
While the storm has dissipated, with this week's attention focused on Hurricane Irma, the effects and damage tolls will last for years—and one thing already seems clear: Texas' dependence on the fossil-fuel industry poses an issue.
Not only does the industry itself contribute to emissions that produce climate change, but one of the state's largest industries sits in a direct path for catastrophic hurricanes.
The fallout from Hurricane Harvey's intense flooding caused numerous refineries to shut down, completely or partially.
As The New York Times reported last week, at least seven major refineries shut down following the hurricane, and a further 11 were at risk of idling some operations due to damage.
Some analysts believe major companies may rethink their Texas operations entirely as experts say climate change will continue to fuel more powerful storms in the Atlantic Ocean.
Offshore Oil RigEnlarge Photo
“From a strategic perspective," Harald Jordan, vice president for engineering at Peak Energy based in Colorado, said, "any company that is invested in a volatile region like [Texas] might want to rethink their concentration of critical assets and people there."
It's not solely a regional issue: Hurricane Harvey's effects will be felt nationwide in the weeks to come as reduced gasoline deliveries from refineries produce a surge in fuel prices.
On a grander scale, the effects may be worse yet.
Refineries have simply burned off excess gasoline because of stalled production, a step rarely taken.
An energy plant has worked to limit the emissions released after a lightning strike ignited fires a chemical storage facility.
Overall, damage caused by the hurricane has increased emissions of NOx in the Galveston and Houston region.
NASA's famous 'Blue marble' image of Earth (Wikimedia commons)Enlarge Photo
If there is any sort of silver lining, some analysts suggest that the refineries' vulnerability to Hurricane Harvey could increase attention on the infrastructure required to produce, refine, and transport fossil fuels.
No new oil refinery has been built in the U.S. since 1976, and they tend to be unpopular neighbors—even in a state whose fortunes have long been tied to oil production and the wealth it produced.
But the concentration of refineries in coastal areas makes the industry particularly vulnerable to storm surges and flooding during major hurricanes.
Whether major oil companies will start to take precautions to reduce the potential for flood damage and emissions remains in question, but the storm clearly exposed many weaknesses.
Texas is also, parenthetically, the largest producer of wind energy in the U.S, a fact only rarely mentioned in coverage of the wreckage at Texas refineries.
But the ultimate irony is that the combustion of the fossil fuels that made Texas wealthy and provided jobs for thousands of Texans has increased that industry's vulnerability to catastrophic damage.
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