Sensationalism or public advocacy? As Texas recovers, perspective and facts are needed but are arriving slowly; energy industries and political professionals should be watching closely
Small chemical plant explosiions that might not otherwise have even rated notice by national news organizations are, as Texas comes into focus with Hurricane Harvey, major headlines.
The New Yorker wonders what's in the smoke from small chemical explosions at a plant in Crosby, Texas and ponders what other chemical disasters may be in the making while the Gulf Coast emerges from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.
The Washington Post centers its Thursday update on Texas Harvey cleanup around "pops and chemical reactions" at a "crippled chemical plant."
The New York Times' leading web headline heading into Friday editions: "Chemical Blasts Add to Dangers In Wake Of the Storm" which declares that the crisis at the French-owned Arkema plant outside Houston will "bring fresh scrutiny on whether these plants are adequately regulated and monitored by state and federal safety officials."
Pontification and speculation where facts are desperately needed; there is real information about the Crosby, Texas, chemical plant crisis that is slowly appearing.
For background details on the crisis, please see the TER story, filed at about 4:00 this morning, below.
The wide reporting of the explosion has been overwhelming the news of more water rescues for endangered Houstonians, constant worries by people forced from their homes into shelters and attempts by beleaguered residents to find some return to normal life.
Even the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long, said in a news conference Thursday, called the plumes of smoke from the Crosby plant "incredibly dangerous" before other officials amended the statement in an effort to head off panic.
The Harris County sheriff on Thursday attempted to put the chemical crisis at the Crosby plant in perspective by noting that the chemical explosions Thursday morning were very small, not explosions really, more like "pops" and small fires which were just as expected given the chemicals involved.
It was noted that the crisis resulted from an extraordinary circumstance; A deluge of water from Hurricane Harvey that no one had considered, just as the failure of the majority of backup systems were also inconceivable.
Coupled with Gulf Coast residents' worries about putting their lives back together and fears of gasoline shortages across the state, rumors that a new state law would make it harder to receive needed insurance compensation after the storm, and continued evacuations as infrastructure is weakened by the hurricane catastrophe, residents are overwhelmed, especially in the Houston area.
In this light, it may not be helpful to say the Crosby explosions "rocked" the Houston area; the sheriff was probably right in downplaying the magnitde of the plant's crisis; the EPA has so far dismissed the probability of widespread health concerns over gases spread by the chemical container "pops" and some are smelling a political note in the air as the crisis leads to criticism of the EPA, local and national authorities and therefore the Trump Administration and Congress, as E&E News noted Thursday.
If much of the news about the Crosby plant takes on a sensationalist tone, there is actual news that is important: The Wall St. Journalin an article published Thursday night, reported that, "according to that 2014 report, the plant in Crosby, Texas, owned by Arkema stores 66,260 pounds of anhydrous sulfur dioxide.
"Under a hypothetical worst-case scenario outlined in the report, the gas, if released, could prove harmful for a radius of 23 miles, covering more than 1 million residents.
"The report was filed as part of a risk-management plan required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Plants that store certain particularly toxic chemicals are required to file such reports every five years, and this is the most recent for the Crosby facility.
"Even under the worst circumstances, it is extremely unlikely that all 1 million people would be adversely affected, experts say."
In disaster zones and nearby, worry can feed on itself. There is real reason for concern and caution and diligence; little need for sensationalism and speculation.
And in a midday story, the International Business Timesclaimed that a list of Texas politicians (mostly Republican but including Democrat Gene Green) received more than $100,000 each from the chemical industry, which helped lead to the delay of a new EPA rule set to take effect March 14th that would have strengthened safety procedures in cases such as that demonstrated in the Crosby chemical crisis.
While this news story chiefly concerns chemicals and the related industries, one might confidently say that the oil and gas, electricity and renewables industries will watch the political effects closely.
By Mike Shiloh
Copyright August 31, 2017, Mike Shiloh, Texas Energy Report LLC, www.texasenergyreport.com, All rights are reserved