Dave Fehling is the Houston-based broadcast reporter for StateImpact. Before joining StateImpact Texas, Dave reported and anchored at KHOU-TV in Houston. He also worked as a staff correspondent for CBS News from 1994-1998. He now lectures on journalism at the University of Houston.
If you lived in Houston in the 1980s, you might have noticed that something has changed about the air you breathe: back then, it was a lot dirtier. But whether it needs to be “cleaner” than it is today is at the heart of debate heating up as new federal regulations are being written.
In the past several decades, the air in Houston and other big cities has improved dramatically. One reason is that car engines emit far less pollution. And the same can be said for big industries.
Charlie Williams is a veteran of the drilling business and now heads an industry safety group.
A little before 10 o’clock on the night of April 20th, 2010 multiple explosions blew apart the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. Eleven crew members died, 17 more were injured while nearly 100 others narrowly escaped. In the five years since, the drilling industry says it has dramatically changed how it does business to make it safer.
Charlie Williams, who spent 40 years at Shell where he was Chief Scientist of Well Engineering, is the man the industry has put in charge of what it calls the Center for Offshore Safety, created after the tragedy and based in Houston.
“I think we are better and we’re going to get continuously better. And the thing people have to realize is you never have zero risk. It can never be zero,” Williams told News 88.7.
Mountains of petroleum coke near the Beltway 8 bridge at the Houston Ship Channel.
State lawmakers are proposing legislation to deal with something we reported on this past December: giant piles of petroleum coke or “pet coke.” It’s a form of coal piling up along the Houston Ship Channel, and it’s leading to complaints from some nearby residents.
We recently reported how black mountains of petroleum coke could be seen along the Ship Channel; one pile looked to be more than half as high as the Beltway 8 bridge. The pile is just a mile from a neighborhood where we’d talked to Esmerelda Moreno who said with so many refineries and chemical plants nearby, they get used to mystery odors.
“Sometimes there’s like a smell, a weird smell,” Moreno said.
It was five years ago next month that a BP oil drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers. Millions of gallons of crude spilled into the water. Damage was done to aquatic life.
But is the spilled oil now to blame for the deaths of hundreds of dolphins?
“The magnitude and the duration of the deaths is utterly unprecedented in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Ryan Fikes, a scientist with the National Wildlife Federation. In a conference call, Fikes talked with reporters along with the group’s David Muth. They released a report titled “Five Years & Counting” about the effects of the spill on wildlife.
“There is compelling evidence that this mortality event that has been going on since the spill is linked to the spill,” said Muth, head of the group’s Gulf Restoration Program.
“Texas is being California-ized,” Abbott said at a keynote speech he delivered January 8th to the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
In a speech last month, Governor Greg Abbott said his state was becoming more like California because cities are banning things like fracking or the cutting down of trees. The Texas Legislature may soon debate passing laws to stop those local initiatives. But is that so new?
James Tour leads research at Rice University to develop smaller, more powerful batteries.
One of the nation’s leading researchers who’s trying to make batteries better is James Tour and his colleagues at Rice University.
“Everybody’s investing billions. If you say millions they scoff at you,” Tour told News 88.7.
Tour says there are three categories of things that need better batteries: portable electronic devices, electric vehicles, and a use we wanted to learn more about: batteries to store huge amounts of electricity to power homes and businesses.
“We are not there yet to be able to store large amounts of electricity. So in other words you have huge banks where you can store electricity at night while people are sleeping.”
“That would be very useful to an average citizen in Texas to know that they can go and find out the whole picture,” said Adam Kron, a lawyer with the Environmental Integrity Project. Continue Reading →
Texas Department of Public Safety Sergeant Jason Reyes walks past the site of an apartment complex destroyed by the deadly fertilizer plant explosion in West.
Accidents at facilities that handle dangerous chemicals in Texas were at the center of a hearing in Washington.
Accidents at facilities that handle dangerous chemicals in Texas were at the center of a hearing in Washington. Some senators are pressing for quick action to reduce the risk of deadly chemical leaks and explosions. They wanted to know if there’s been any progress since President Obama issued an executive order to improve chemical safety, an order that followed the fertilizer explosion in the city of West.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, said she was disappointed that “little progress” had been made.
“And we know there are problems because they keep happening. And people are dying, and people are going to the hospital,” said Boxer.
Other members of the Senate committee used a recent example of yet another deadly chemical accident. Continue Reading →
An aerial view shows investigators walking through the aftermath of a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant in the town of West, near Waco, Texas April 18, 2013.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board says the industry it oversees is experiencing a safety crisis. The board investigates industrial accidents. It says recent deadly explosions and chemical leaks in Texas make a strong case for action.
It’s been a tragic couple of years for some people who work around dangerous chemicals in Texas.
“Fertilizer plant on fire, there was an explosion; we have several buildings that have been destroyed,” said a dispatcher to first responders headed to a fertilizer business in the city of West. It was on the evening of April 17, 2013. Ten volunteer firefighters would be among the 15 people killed by the explosion.
Then last month in La Porte, workers at a DuPont pesticides plant called for help. From a 911 call from the plant: “We have five people unaccounted for; we have had a chemical release.”
Four of those workers would later be found dead, apparently overcome by chemical fumes. Continue Reading →