Harris County Sues Exxon Mobil A Day After Fire Breaks Out At Refinery Outside Houston

Aug 1, 2019

Harris County and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality are suing Exxon Mobil for allegedly violating the Texas Clean Air Act and Texas Water Code, during a fire that broke out at the company’s oil refinery in Baytown on Wednesday.

The fire started around 11 a.m., sending smoke into the air and injuring 37 people. The unit that caught fire at the company’s Olefins plant processed light hydrocarbons, including propane and propylene.

In a complaint filed Thursday morning, Harris County attorneys accuse Exxon Mobil of “unauthorized emissions into the atmosphere,” saying multiple air pollutants including “propylene, LPG, propane, and associated products of combustion” were released.

The county wants a temporary restraining order and temporary injunction ordering the petrochemical giant to comply with the Texas Clean Air Act, Texas Water Code and Texas Administrative Code.

Exxon Mobil tweeted Wednesday morning that the fire had been extinguished, and that the Baytown complex is operating at a reduced level, while the “impacted unit has been shut down and stabilized.”

Exxon Mobil said it is continuing to investigate the cause of the fire, and that air monitoring continues to show normal levels in the area.

The company also highlighted its “environmental performance”:

“Since 2005, ExxonMobil has spent nearly $1 billion on the Baytown complex to improve environmental performance. We have reduced total emissions by more than 29 percent and improved our air incident performance, including those that contribute to hydrocarbon flaring, by 76 percent.”

In 2017, U.S. District Judge David Hittner in Houston ruled against Exxon Mobil in a pollution lawsuit filed by environmentalists, ordering the company to pay nearly $20 million for violating the Clean Air Act at its Baytown facility.

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From Houston Public Media