Chemical industry urged to prepare for extreme weather

July 8, 2024

Extreme weather: Hurricane Beryl’s early arrival signals a severe hurricane season

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) is urging the chemical industry to prepare for a potentially severe hurricane season following the early arrival of Hurricane Beryl, as reported by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.

Hurricane Beryl, the earliest Category 5 storm on record in the Atlantic Ocean, has already caused significant damage in the Caribbean.

On May 23, 2024, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted an 85 percent chance of an above-normal 2024 Atlantic hurricane season.

With sea water temperatures already as warm as they usually are in August or September, Hurricane Beryl may indicate the possibility of more intense storms before the season ends in November.

As the hurricane progresses, southern states such as Texas are monitoring its path closely.

Previous hurricane-induced chemical incidents

The CSB has previously investigated two major chemical incidents caused by hurricanes.

On August 31, 2017, Hurricane Harvey caused severe flooding at the Arkema chemical facility in Crosby, Texas, leading to equipment failure and chemical decomposition, resulting in fires.

This incident caused the evacuation of over 200 residents and required 21 individuals to seek medical attention.

On August 27, 2020, Hurricane Laura’s extreme winds severely damaged the Bio-Lab chemical facility in Westlake, Louisiana.

Water exposure to stored chemicals caused a chemical reaction, leading to a fire and the release of toxic gases.

This event resulted in a portion of Interstate 10 being closed and a shelter-in-place order being issued.

The facility sustained significant damage, with a rebuilding cost of approximately $250 million.

Regulatory measures to enhance safety

The CSB’s investigations and concerns have prompted regulatory actions to enhance safety.

Last year, the CSB called on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to ensure the protection of the nation’s bulk-power system from extreme weather events to prevent power losses at chemical facilities.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized amendments to the Risk Management Program, known as the “Safer Communities by Chemical Accident Prevention – Risk Management Program Final Rule.”

These amendments aim to protect communities near high-risk chemical facilities by emphasizing the evaluation of vulnerabilities to natural hazards, including hurricanes.

The CSB supported these amendments, highlighting the need for facilities to implement effective strategies to manage extreme weather impacts.

CSB’s call to action

CSB Chairperson Steve Owens emphasized the urgency for the chemical industry to prepare for extreme weather: “Hurricanes can greatly damage chemical and refining facilities and cause hazardous chemical releases that severely impact workers and surrounding communities.

“Hurricane Beryl should serve as an early warning to chemical companies to act now to ensure their facilities can withstand the impact of a hurricane or other extreme weather events including wind, flooding, or storm surge.”

Chairperson Owens further stressed the importance of preparedness: “The unprecedented early arrival of Hurricane Beryl shows that when it comes to extreme weather, chemical companies should expect the unexpected and must always be prepared for the worst-case scenario.

“Unfortunately, extreme weather events are becoming increasingly more common and more severe.

“Chemical and refining facilities must be more prepared than ever to prevent a serious chemical accident from occurring.”

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