The fracking boom is driving environmental disasters like the Intercontinental Terminal Company (ITC) Deer Park petrochemical fire. The ITC fire isn’t the first such disaster, and so long as Texas government prioritizes oil and gas industry profits ahead of public health, it won’t be the last.

Facilities like ITC’s are proposed for the Gulf Coast and Appalachia, thanks to an overabundance of fracking byproducts like those stored in the tanks that caught fire. As the Houston Chronicle reported, “Whether these fracking byproducts are used to make plastics or nail polish, these chemicals are known to cause adverse health impacts to people.” As noted by Houston-based community justice champion TEJAS, and confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control, “symptoms of acute exposure to naphtha may include irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, headaches, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. High exposures can cause lightheadedness and fatigue while repeated exposure may cause damage to the nervous system and kidneys. Xylene exposure at high levels can lead to irritation of eyes, nose and throat; cause difficulties breathing; problems with lungs; delayed reaction times; memory difficulties; stomach discomfort and possibly changes in liver and kidneys. It can cause unconsciousness and even death at high levels.”

The Center for International Environmental Law Plastics and Health report documents these same chemicals are found in air surrounding fracking sites, where nearby communities have reported similar health impacts.

For coastal communities like Deer Park, health impacts are coupled with climate change impacts. Recent studies by NASA and others link the global spike in methane — a climate pollutant 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide — with oil and gas production. We don’t yet know the long-term health impacts from Hurricane Harvey, and with state and federal officials declining full disclosure of its environmental impacts, we may never know.

With petrochemical infrastructure on the rise, we can expect more “Deer Parks” and even more undocumented impacts to fence-line communities not located adjacent to a major metropolitan area. That’s partially because our state regulator, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), protects the well-being of the oil and gas industry first, not Texas’ communities. TCEQ’s failures at ITC Deer Park, proven by its long list of unpunished environmental violations, suggest thousands more polluting facilities receiving the same (lack of) oversight.

The oil and gas industry is rapidly building petrochemical infrastructure to ensure continued fossil fuel dependency — as power and transportation electrify — just when we must make use of a very short window of opportunity to reduce greenhouse gases to prevent catastrophic climate change.

When will Texas start putting people over profit? Not yet. Next Wave Energy LP’s $600M Deer Park petrochemical facility was recently approved with tax incentives to boot, revenue that should benefit the community-at-risk is instead profiting the company. But state Sen. Judith Zaffirini has proposed a bill to help protect children from oil and gas production’s environmental risks. We need that enacted, but even if that happens (unlikely given our governor and legislative leaders), communities like Deer Park would be unprotected from petrochemical plants. To protect everyone we need comprehensive reform of state oil and gas oversight that puts Texas communities first. Soon thereafter, we need to transition to a renewable energy economy — the well-being of our neighbors, friends, families and future depends on it.

Priscilla Villa is the Houston-based South Texas Organizer at Earthworks.


(15) comments

Carlos Ponce

So you're saying the ITC fire was caused by the fracking boom?
The real reason was a leak:
"There was a leak that occurred in the 80-8 manifold. The release ignited, resulting in a fire within the manifold, involving Tank 80-8 and other adjacent tanks as well."

Bailey Jones

Houston was exploding on a regular basis long before the fracking boom. But to answer your question - Texas will never put people before profit, at least not poor people. My question is - how is ITC going to be held accountable?

Carlos Ponce

Read the AP article in today's paper.
It's a trade off, Bailey. The petrochemical industry provides jobs and pays local property taxes. In return locals live with the fear that something could go very wrong. What you term "poor people" can move away if that fear overrides their need for jobs.

Jennifer Lawrence

Are you willing to give up your nail polish among the other billions of products that are produced by the chemical, oil, and gas industry? I doubt it. America is hooked on consumerism. That is why we continue to invest in these industries. Is there a profit? Yes. More importantly, there is demand!

Rusty Schroeder

Poor Little Snowflake, I wonder what components of her smart phone are made from the industry she so hates ?

Gary Scoggin

I counted six different disjointed thoughts here. (Perhaps someone could connect them a little better for me.) Disjointed rants may be fun to write and for some fun to read but they don’t move policy, which is, I think, this person’s objective.

Chris Tucker

Ms.Villa, Fracking had nothing to do with the ITC accident and to string together a disjointed, unsupported information as the basis of your opinion is a false narrative based on uneducated snowflake talking points. Have you even been in a petroleum/chemical storage facility? If you had then you would realize the extent the industry strives to work safe and to minimize any spills, emissions, leaks, etc. It should be pointed out among the reasons people who work at these facilities work hard to contain the products/chemicals is not only to meet the regulatory requirements but also because they live in these areas and wish to protect themselves and loved ones. Fracking has nothing to do with what occurred at ITC. Oh by the way....naphtha is the base component for think about that the next time you are driving your car as you are supporting the very industry you are trying to vilify. Additionally nowhere did you express your thanks to the brave men and women who had the training and fortitude to stand in the face of the fire working tirelessly to extinguish the fire while you were sitting in the comfort of your home watching it on TV. It was a regrettable accident and thank the Good Lord in Heaven no one was hurt or killed.

Rusty Schroeder

South Texas Organizer for Earthworks Houston chapter, I always read the description of people who write Letters to the Editor. This one, like most other outside the county contributors, is spot on with their agenda ,,,, and stupidity.

Miceal O'Laochdha

Oh come on, characterizing Deer Park as a "Coastal Community" is as fragile a thought trolley as the idea that the various products involved in this fire come from "fracking". While it is true enough that Deer Park is on a body of water connected to the Coast, it would be more accurately referred to as a Refinery / Terminal Community. There are many of them on three US coasts. I trust she is just as concerned with the good folks of Marcus Hook PA or Richmond CA. So too, since the refined products involved come from crude oil, and since fracking is one of the many ways of obtaining crude oil, saying they come from fracking is technically correct by a thin stretch. I presume that the young lady's focus is simply activism against fracking and therefore any connection, no matter how tenuous, to a negative environmental Incident is handy to her agenda. Her concern for the firefighters and other front line personnel who attacked and defeated this catastrophe is non-existent; and her concern for the folks in the "fence-line" communities (comprised of the families of the very people she and wishes to put out of work) is only as it serves her agenda. She will however, make a telegenic spokesman for her "Movement".

Steve Fouga

There may be legitimate reasons to worry about the "fracking boom," and about the ITC leak, but they are not linked. They are separate things, different issues.

So often, in a rush to do something they think is good, zealous people frame their arguments in a way that immediately undermines them. This is an example. The Green New Deal is an example. Medicare for All is an example. Unless that initial blast of well-meaning words is backed with impeccable logic and diligent research, there will inevitably be valuable time, energy, and political capital spent in walking the story back.

If something is worth protesting, it's worth understanding.

George Croix

"The fracking boom is driving environmental disasters like the Intercontinental Terminal Company (ITC) Deer Park petrochemical fire."

Can't fix that......
When the first sentence has zero credibility, and zero sense, no use wasting time on the rest........

The BAD part is that other equally reality challenged people will believe this cra_....
Nothing new there, either...........

Randy Chapman

Actually, none of this is true. Somehow, some way, this is Bush's fault but they haven't connected the dots together at this juncture. Give them time...

Chris Tucker

Okay so I was curious enough to research the author of this article and here are her qualifications in making these disjointed, unsupported and unrelated conclusions. This is from the Earthworks website: Priscilla Villa joined Earthworks in 2016 after graduating from the University of North Texas where she received her M.A. in Applied Anthropology with a focus on environmental health. Yep....definitely qualified!

Ray Taft

According to this article: “Priscilla Villa is the Houston-based South Texas Organizer at Earthworks.”

Looking at Earthworks’ home page their history is centered on stopping mining or in this case fracking. Apparently, their concern about Deer Park is merely a front to stop fracking. And Earthworks description of fracking on their website is misleading and full of erroneous facts.

This guest column is merely fake news about the ITC disaster and Priscilla Villa and Earthworks should have no place in looking at this disaster because their cause is nonsensical and based on their environmentalists‘ biases.

Fake news like this is designed to change the focus, cloud the real issue and to trick the public into empowering those who want to stop making America great again. Shame on The Daily News for publishing it.

Paul Hyatt

She is just another highly educated millennial spewing forth nonsense that she knows nothing about.

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