Texas’ petrochemical boom fuels hopes and concerns

Dow’s new facilities will also be less water-intensive than those using earlier technologies

Kate Gabraith of the Texas Tribune reports from Freeport, Texas on how the gas boom is changing Texas and the concerns many Texans have.

“The largest chemical complex in the Western Hemisphere resembles a city of pipes and stacks. And Dow Chemical, its owner, is spending more than $4 billion to make it even larger.

“’In terms of dollars, this is the biggest expansion since we built the place,’ said Earl Shipp, vice president for Dow’s Texas operations, who works out of the vast Freeport facility that dates to 1940.

“More Texas chemical plants — a dozen, at least — are also moving forward with new projects. The hydraulic fracturing technology that sparked a drilling frenzy around Texas and the nation has proved a boon for the petrochemical industry, which is converting cheap and abundant natural gas into resins and polymers that go into items like synthetic clothing and cellphones. Experts say this represents the largest petrochemical expansion in Texas since the days of cheap oil in the 1980s.

“But the growth comes amid concerns about future shortages of water and electric power statewide, as well as worries about the industry’s impact on air pollution in the Houston area.

“Although the cheap natural gas presents an “enormous opportunity” for the petrochemical industry, “we want to be sure that as all of this activity takes off, it’s not creating a lot of bads” like water scarcity or air pollution, said Kenneth B. Medlock III, the deputy director of the Energy Forum at Rice University’s James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.

“Texas already includes the country’s largest concentration of petrochemical plants, with more than 200 manufacturing facilities, according to the Texas Chemical Council. The industry started in the decades after Texas’ first big oil discovery in 1901, and growth accelerated during World War II, when the Allies sought synthetic rubber and material for explosives.

“Modern plants use mostly natural gas, rather than oil, to make the chemicals. Whereas power plants run on methane, a component of natural gas, chemical plants use other, hotter-burning components — ethane, propane and butane,” the article said.

Almost every article taking a critical look at an issue has a “comes at a time” paragraph:

“But the expansions come at a time when Texas is facing critical questions about the availability of water and power. The crippling drought, which has abated but not ended, forced a Formosa Plastics facility along the coast in Point Comfort to temporarily adjust to receiving as much as 20 percent less water from a nearby lake as its level receded. Chemical plants need vast amounts of water for cooling and cleaning. [...]

“Environmentalists, for their part, are worried about air pollution. Matthew Tejada, executive director of Air Alliance Houston, said the major concern was ozone levels, which were high in Texas last year.

“In the Houston area, Tejada said in an email, ‘the next several years could be the worst for ozone in terms of adding new sources of ozone precursors since regulations began in the 1970s.’”

Via The New York Times GreenBlog

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One Comment on “Texas’ petrochemical boom fuels hopes and concerns”

  1. [...] Texas' petrochemical boom fuels hopes and concerns « Daily … [...]

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