Texas power freeze led to huge release of air pollutants

The largest U.S. oil refiners released massive clouds of air pollutants into the skies over Texas last week, as one environmental crisis triggered another.

Data sent to a Texas environmental commission show power outages from the winter storm forced the five largest refiners to emit nearly 337,000 pounds of pollutants.

The power losses forced the plants to flare, or burn gasses to prevent damage to processing units. The flaring darkened the skies of eastern Texas, with smoke visible for miles.

Data show the the pollutants included tens of thousands of pounds of benzene, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide.

A researcher at advocacy group Earthworks said the releases could have been prevented by winterizing facilities.

Final figures on pollution releases are due to be submitted to the state in two weeks.

The extreme cold, which killed at least two dozen people, knocked out power to more than four million at its peak and caused widespread water shortages for nearly 15 million people.

President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration for the state on Saturday, which makes federal funding available to affected individuals.

Though Texas power plants are back online, nearly 40,000 customers remained without power as of Sunday afternoon.

Video Transcript

- The largest US oil refiners released massive clouds of air pollutants into the skies over Texas last week. As one environmental crisis triggered another. Data sent to a Texas environmental commission show power outages from the winter storm forced the five largest refiners to emit nearly 337,000 pounds of pollutants.

The power losses forced the plants to flare, or burn gases, to prevent damage to processing units. The flaring darkened the skies of Eastern Texas with smoke visible for miles. Data show the pollutants include tens of thousands of pounds of benzene, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, and sulfur dioxide.

A researcher at Advocacy Group Earthworks said the releases could have been prevented by winterizing facilities. Final figures on pollution releases are due to be submitted to the state in two weeks.

The extreme cold, which killed at least two dozen people, knocked out power to more than 4 million at its peak and caused widespread water shortages for nearly 15 million people. President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration for the state on Saturday, which makes federal funding available to affected individuals. Though Texas power plants are back online, nearly 40,000 customers remained without power as of Sunday afternoon.