Legislature should act on storage tank safety
The Texas Legislature should remember the time frame of two years on the issue of storage tank safety. It’s been two years since the wind and waters of Hurricane Harvey caused the roofs of 15 above-ground storage tanks in the Houston area to fail and release 3.1 million pounds of hazardous chemicals. It will be another two years until the Legislature meets in regular session again. That’s why the Legislature needs to act in the final month of the current session on a bill that would allow the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to set performance standards for these tanks.
No one is talking about banning the tanks or even significantly altering their design. The proposed legislation, Senate Bill 1446, would simply require the tanks to have protective devices, such as anchors and dome covers — which some of them do now. The bill would even require TCEQ to hold public hearing and meet with industry representatives to ensure that any regulations were feasible. Most below-ground tanks are already regulated by TCEQ.
But of course Texas is a “pro-business” state, and even fundamental regulations like this run into resistance. Yet lawmakers are always saying they need to “learn the lessons” of Hurricane Harvey, and this is one of them. These storage tanks are prone to fail in disasters, and keeping them vulnerable on the Gulf Coast is just asking for trouble.
During Harvey, two tanks in the Galena Park complex of Magellan Midstream failed and let out 11,000 barrels of gasoline. Though the spill was mostly contained on company property, much of the gasoline evaporated, releasing 2.5 million pounds of pollutants into the air, including 13,000 pounds of benzene. That was the single largest such spill during Harvey, and it could have been prevented.
Again, some companies take these precautions. They are spending a little more money to do so, putting them at a slight competitive disadvantage against companies that don’t. Why not level the playing field for all of them — in a highly profitable industry that can easily afford to spend a bit more on safety?
The current session of the Legislature is scheduled to end on May 27, just five days before the official start of hurricane season. Lawmakers should take common-sense precautions like this against storms that will eventually strike Texas again.