Valero Faces Permit Fight Over Emissions At Houston Refinery

Dated: 06/05/2018

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San Antonio-based refining company Valero Energy Corp. wants to add hydrogen cyanide to the list of emissions from its Houston refinery. Enlarge

San Antonio-based refining company Valero Energy Corp. wants to add hydrogen cyanide to the list of emissions from its Houston refinery.

VALERO ENERGY CORP.


by Sergio – Reporter, San Antonio Business Journal

San Antonio-based refining company Valero Energy Corp. is facing a permit fight over emissions of a poisonous gas from its Houston refinery.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is holding a meeting Monday evening at the Hartman Park Community Center in Houston to hear public comment on Valero's request to add hydrogen cyanide, a neurotoxin, to the emissions monitored at the facility.

Hydrogen cyanide, which is a byproduct of some refining processes, is lighter than air. The gas typically rises rapidly and disperses into the atmosphere, where it breaks down slowly — after which, it is not considered a risk to human health.

In an amendment to its TCEQ air permit, Valero (NYSE: VLO) is seeking permission to include hydrogen cyanide on the list of emissions from its Houston refinery's fluid catalytic cracking unit. While the unit has always emitted hydrogen cyanide, the TCEQ was not required to track it until the Obama administration released new guidelines for monitoring the gas.

A 2017 stack test revealed that the refinery's fluid catalytic cracking unit was producing hydrogen cyanide, prompting Valero to file the amendment request. TCEQ officials have already completed the technical review of Valero's amendment application and prepared a draft permit.

If approved, the draft permit would allow the Houston refinery to release more than 512 tons of hydrogen cyanide per year. The final permit may be much lower. Under TCEQ regulations, Valero would be given six months to perform tests to determine the unit's actual rates of release. The final permit would be adjusted accordingly.

A community group named Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, or TEJAS, opposes Valero's request amid concerns that neighborhoods, churches, and schools that are downwind from the refinery could be exposed to the toxic gas. Residents of the nearby Manchester neighborhood, a predominantly Spanish-speaking community, are particularly concerned. The working-class neighborhood was allegedly exposed to a cloud of the carcinogenic chemical benzene from Valero's Houston refinery as a result of damage from Hurricane Harvey last year.

Yvette Arellano helped launch a public comment campaign in April, asking residents of the Manchester neighborhood and other nearby communities to voice their opposition to Valero's request. Arellano told the Business Journal that the group has invited as many as 400 people from surrounding neighborhoods to attend the Monday evening meeting.

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Jared Anthony

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