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Seawalls for refineries?

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Apologies for no link - this was emailed me from a colleague.

 

 

Houston mayor: The Texas energy boom has environmental impacts

 

 

Houston Mayor Annise Parker said Tuesday that her city is already the oil and gas capital of the world and is fast becoming the global energy capital.

 

But she said it’s time that industry, government and citizens have “adult conversations about the trade-offs” between economic prosperity fueled by the energy boom in Texas and elsewhere and the environmental consequences of fracking and runaway energy consumption.

 

Hydraulic fracturing, an unconventional gas and oil drilling method that has helped put trillions of dollars of resources in play for risk-taking firms, carries with it unacceptable consequences for the planet — and for Houston, she said.

 

“It’s unconscionable the amount of water that fracking companies use, when we are under such a dire drought threat,” she said. Central Texas is just now climbing out of a crippling, persistent drought, she said, and the state has finally begun addressing long-term water shortages.

 

Parker is the only Texan invited by President Obama to serve on a panel of local, state and tribal leaders charged with helping develop a strategy for how to make cities and states more resilient in the face of global warming.

 

She is in Washington Tuesday to attend the panel’s first meeting — which she said involved “a lot of talking” and a lot of homework for staff members to do before next meeting.

 

“We divided our responsibilities into four working groups,” she said, before struggling for a moment to remember all four. “I don’t want to have a Rick Perry moment,” she said to laughter. Then she remembered: infrastructure, natural disaster response, natural resources and community resilience.

 

She said the risks of climate change, she said, go well beyond drought. The U.S. uses too much energy, and some of the production methods have to be made less harmful to the environment.

 

“Houston is one of the most over-air-conditioned cities in the world,” she said, noting that her city is a good place to put in practice more environmentally friendly practices. It also is too dependent on cars, and uses a lot of gas.

 

“If you want to be a missionary, you look for areas of opportunity. Well, we have a lot of souls that need saving.”

 

At a brief reception before her luncheon speech — which focused on the challenges elected leaders face in getting things done — Parker was joined by a gaggle of oil and gas industry officials and lobbyists. They pressed her to acknowledge the benefits of natural gas relative to, say, coal.

 

But she sidestepped that pressure and noted that until the oil and gas industry develops the infrastructure to prevent continual natural gas flares at wells, it will have a lot of work to do. Excess natural gas can be captured, rather than burned, but the operations in Texas don’t typically have the infrastructure to do that and transport the gas, Parker said.

 

Still, Parker said Houston wouldn’t be the city it is today without the success of energy companies — many of which use Houston as a money and headquarters. “We’re a headquarters town,” she said, noting that Houston has more Fortune 500 companies located there than any city besides New York.

 

Most of the focus on White House panel, she said, is how to help cities and states “harden” their infrastructure to make them less vulnerable to climate change. Energy consumption won’t halt, and neither will climate change, she suggested. The answer has to be a balance of new technology, more efficient use and smart planning.

 

In Houston, one of the top priorities is to protect its oil refineries from rising sea levels or a future Hurricane surge. About 20 percent of the nation’s refinery capacity is located right there on the Gulf in Houston, she said.

 

One solution is to build giant sea walls that will help protect the refineries, an approach that has worked in flood-prone Netherlands. Still, protecting the refineries could put at risk nearby residential neighborhoods, she said, noting that weighing those effects will require more analysis. 

12/10/2013 Dallas Morning News – Michael Lindenberger

 

 

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I read that article, too.  For me, it's interesting that I also read the article in the Dallas Morning News and not in the Comical.  I was a bit annoyed that the DMN article lead off with a photo of some old refineries along the ship channel here (because I think that encourages the ongoing Dallas-Houston rivalries and related prejudices).  But ... the photo also reflects a truth that we should face up to:  long ago, we as a community agreed to accept some dirty industry in return for jobs and economic growth.  

 

In the article, what was new for me was to hear our mayor talk about emulating some of The Netherlands' ways of mitigating flooding.  We could flood-proof our petrochemical plants and even build subways if were will willing to pay for it ... as, apparently, the Dutch are.  However, it doesn't appear that we have the will to do that.  

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Texas City has a levee system that protects it's petrochemical industry, along with the adjacent residential and commercial area. It has worked twice since it was completed, once in 1983 (Alicia) and then again in 2008 (Ike).

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That is good to know.  I wonder if building that levee was a consequence of heightened safety awareness there because of previous disasters.  I doubt many Houston residents of today know that Texas City was the site of the worst industrial disaster in US history.   Wikipedia describes it as one of the largest non-nuclear explosions.  So, while it was not flood-related, hundreds of people died when flammable cargo ignited on a ship docked there.  

 

Edited by ArchFan

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^Windows were blown out of buildings all over Galveston County.  Imagine the hysteria that must have caused for a while, as the only way to quickly learn of anything would be to know, or have contact with a local police officer (who would be hoping the wireless in their car was working)?  You can see the damage still by driving through old Texas City (it actually has a reasonably sized downtown area - though mostly devoid of shops) and notice the abscence of many buildings older than 1950.

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I had the pleasure of being acquanted with one of the first responder fire fighters of the 1947 Texas City Disaster. He had just left the fire after being there for several hours and was headed home to refresh when the second explosion occured. By the time he got back to the scene, the guys he had been working alongside of were all gone. There was no sign of them. They said that their remains were blown miles away.

Jack would go on to marry the widow of one of those deceased fire fighters (all volunteers he said). Jack himself passed away just a few yeas ago. It was an honor to know this guy and to hear a first hand accounting of the event.

But back to the flood protection levee, yes it was built in response to the damage done by Hurricane Carla (1961). The federal funding was championed by local congressmen Clark Thompson and Jack Brooks. This was back in the day when federal spending was considered a good thing!

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