Are Houston's petrochemicals safe from hurricanes? - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News


Are Houston's petrochemicals safe from hurricanes?

Hurricane Ike had had the makings of an environmental nightmare unlike anything in U.S. history when it approached the upper Texas Gulf Coast's petrochemical complex.

That didn't happen. Ike's storm surge was less severe than feared and floodwalls, levees and bulkheads built around the region's heavy industry generally held. Some hazardous material spilled, but nothing to cause the widespread environmental damage some feared.

But many of the plants and refineries are protected by a 1960s-era, 15-foot-high levee system built by the Army Corps of Engineers. That levee system is strikingly similar to the one around New Orleans that failed catastrophically during Katrina.

The shortcomings are plain to see. For example, Texas City is home to seven massive facilities run by industry giants like Dow Chemical, BP and Valero. It's surrounded by a ring levee system that includes earthen levees without erosion-control concrete, long stretches of floodwalls similar to those that failed during Katrina and a mishmash of levee heights.

The Corps of Engineers says it's aware of the danger, but it says neither Congress nor local authorities have shown much interest in getting it to study building an improved system.

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