This will end well:
The remnants of Hurricane Harvey carried its wrath up the Mississippi Delta on Thursday, but not before hammering the Gulf Coast with more punishing cloudbursts and growing threats that included blasts and “black smoke” at a crippled chemical plant and the collapse of the drinking water system in a Texas city.
While local officials described the blasts early Thursday at the plant in Crosby as “chemical reactions” and not “massive explosions,” federal authorities used dire language to describe the impact of the fumes from the plant.
The chemical plume in Crosby is “incredibly dangerous,” William “Brock” Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said at a briefing Thursday morning. But the Harris County sheriff, Ed Gonzalez, claimed whatever fumes were released were “not anything toxic” — raising baffling questions about the level of danger even as authorities sealed off surrounding areas and imposed a no-fly zone over the plant.
We may actually be looking at a situation where a large portion of the flooded areas is simply uninhabitable for decades to come. And it’s not like this was unknown, as this ProPublica piece from 2016 demonstrates:
Thousands of cylindrical storage tanks line the sides of the narrow Houston Ship Channel. Some are as small as residential propane tanks, others as big as the average 2-story house.
Inside them sits one of the world’s largest concentrations of oil, gases and chemicals — all key to fueling the American economy, but also, scientists fear, a disaster waiting to happen.
Hundreds of thousands of people live in industrial towns clustered around the Ship Channel, in the path of Houston’s perfect storm. And if flooding causes enough of what’s inside the storage containers to leak at even one industrial facility nearby, scientists say, the damage could be far-reaching.
A chemical release could fuel an explosion or fire, potentially imperiling industrial facilities and nearby homes and businesses. Nearly 300,000 people live in residential areas identified by one scientist as particularly at risk to a chemical or oil spill.
And if hazardous material spills into the Ship Channel and ends up in Galveston Bay, it could harm one of the region’s most productive estuaries and a national ecological treasure.
“It will be an environmental disaster right up there with the BP oil spill,” said Phil Bedient, who co-directs the Severe Storm Prediction, Education, and Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED) Center at Rice University.
What companies keep in many of the storage facilities on the Ship Channel and what measures they take to protect them is difficult to pin down, both for national security reasons and to maintain trade secrets. That leaves scientists and advocates unsure of the true risk. But virtually all would agree the government standards and regulations in place would not protect against major oil and chemical spills if a monster storm were to hit.
Industry groups said they take hurricanes seriously and don’t deny they are at risk. They said that’s why the region needs a coastal barrier system.
“Hurricanes are devastating meteorological events, and when they hit … they will cause massive impact all over the Gulf Coast,” said Craig Beskid, executive director of the East Harris County Manufacturers Association, which represents ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and other major companies that operate 130 facilities in the area.
And the government knew. The federal government has been working since 1993 to craft a plan, but nothing has happened because JOBS and FREE MARKET and EVIL REGULATIONS:
A draft executive order (pdf) obtained by E&E would toughen a 1977 directive by President Carter that was seen then as a landmark step establishing a federal leadership role in floodplain management.
But since devastating Midwest floods in 1993, disaster-management experts have been calling for a revision of federal floodplain policies, saying agencies have failed to consistently comply with rules written in the wake of Carter’s order.
“You still go out and find post offices being built in floodplains,” said Larry Larson, executive director of the Association of State Floodplain Managers. “Where’s the cheapest land? It’s in the high-hazard area.”
President Obama’s draft order would direct agencies to use non-structural approaches — typically, building codes, planning laws and eduction campaigns — to manage floodplains and protect public safety, wetlands and other natural resources, rather than build levees and dams.
The order would also bar federal agencies from supporting “critical” facilities — such as hospitals, police stations, power plants or evacuation centers — in 500-year floodplains, unless no alternative exists.
And we did nothing. Because freedumb.
Also, I have spare bedrooms if you know anyone from Houston who needs a place to stay. It’s not ideal, because it is in WV, but maybe some young folks who just don’t want to rebuild and want to relocate could set up base camp here before starting a new life in the midwest or northeast.
BTW- just kidding about Texas becoming a Superfund site. The Trump administration’s budget proposal guts funding for them and the EPA is led by a guy who thinks crude oil is one of the five basic food groups. So maybe not a Superfund site, but the scene of Fallout 5.