Texas energy companies have gotten a break from monitoring chemical leaks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to an article in the Houston Chronicle, Texas has suspended some environmental rules for oil and chemical plants due to limited staffing.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has provided more than 100 environmental monitoring and inspection exemptions since March 2020. Exemptions include rules to inspect facilities for dangerous chemical leaks and volatile organic compounds (gases that contaminate groundwater).
Exemptions were granted to companies who requested temporary environmental rule suspensions for reasons relating to COVID-19. Many companies required employees to work from home. They limited the number of onsite workers to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The lack of monitoring brought about by these exemptions could endanger workers. They could also endanger residents who live near oil and chemical plants. Harmful chemical leaks may not be promptly discovered. They can do a great deal of damage to the health of workers and residents before they are discovered.
"Moments of exposure (to harmful chemicals) cannot be undone," said Texas Office of Public Citizen director Adrian Shelley. "If you end up with a locally toxic situation that isn't discovered, you're putting the neighborhood at risk."
Companies' reasons for requesting exemptions
According to the Houston Chronicle article, Enterprise Product Partners (EPP) received five approvals to suspend its monitoring of volatile organic compound leaks through the end of June. EPP is a pipeline, storage and transportation company based in Houston.
The company cites barring contractors from entering the facility as its main reason for requesting the exemptions. In addition, visitors have been excluded from the site, and onsite workers have been placed on alternating shifts.
"The safety and well-being of Enterprise employees and contractors is our top priority," said the company's spokesperson Rick Rainey. "The request to the TCEQ is designed to protect essential operations personnel during the current pandemic by limiting contact with third parties."
The company's environmental reporting obligations will only proceed when workers and contractors can safely work together.
Air Liquide was granted an exemption from conducting quarterly monitoring of chemical emission leaks from pressurized equipment until the end of June. Air Liquide is a French chemical company with a U.S. subsidiary based in Houston. Their reason for requesting exemptions was "limited contractor availability."
"Air Liquide continues to be in compliance with regulatory requirements for the site and is fully committed to the safety and welfare of its employees," said the company's spokesperson Cassandra Mauel.
Can I seek legal representation despite these exemptions?
Despite the exemptions granted by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, oil and chemical plants still have an obligation to protect the safety of workers and nearby residents. If you or a loved one was injured or became ill due to an explosion, leak, or other facility accident, you have the right to take legal action.
The attorneys at Tracey Fox King & Walters investigate incidents involving oil, gas, and chemical plant accidents, as well as other industrial accidents. We also take an inclusive approach to help each of our clients get the justice and compensation they deserve. We have law offices in Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio. To schedule your free case evaluation, fill out our online contact form.