Industries across Texas are relying on dozens of outdated rainfall regulations that could dangerously impact infrastructure used in waste treatment, petrochemicals and oil & gas.
A new report by Public Citizen Texas finds that these rainfall regulations have become outdated as climate change makes extreme weather events more intense and likely.
“Texas regulations have not kept pace with the modern frequency and volume of heavy rain events,” the report reads. “The Texas Gulf Coast regularly experiences extreme weather that exceeds worst case predictions and leads to flooding, infrastructure damage, and industrial accidents. Texas must update its regulations with new data to minimize the harm caused by future extreme weather events.”
The report shows that industries that rely on these outdated assumptions about rainfall volumes and frequency can cause severe environmental pollution.
“The increasing frequency of these supposedly rare rainfall events is not just bad luck,” the report says. “It is a clear sign that our climate is changing and that our assumptions about rainfall frequency and volume are wrong.”
In one example examined by the report, petroleum storage tanks are some of the most vulnerable petrochemical industry infrastructure jeopardized by the state’s outdated rainfall regulations.
These cylindrical floating roof storage tanks, whose roofs float on top of the petroleum products they contain, can flood and release unsafe chemicals during storms.
At least nine petrochemical facilities experienced these kinds of floating roof tank failures during Hurricane Harvey, the report finds. Together, these storage tank failures released more than 3 million pounds of pollution into the environment.
Other tank failures also occurred in the 2015 Memorial Day Flood. In one instance, 11 inches of rain caused a Houston floating roof tank to flood and release 34,836 pounds of petrochemical pollution.
These floating roof tank failures are just some of the state’s infrastructure that is at risk by relying on outdated references for what a 100-year or 25-year storm looks like in Texas.
State agencies like the Railroad Commission of Texas and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality also enforce and oversee outdated rainfall references for instructure used in solid oil and gas waste recycling, surface mining, pipeline safety, wastewater treatment, sewage facilities, agriculture and livestock and more.
“As this survey of state regulations has shown, there are many industries that rely on outdated assumptions about rainfall volume and frequency,” the report concludes. “Texas lawmakers have steadfastly refused to update our laws and regulations to prepare for the impact of climate change. Our vulnerability to severe storms is one consequence of this refusal.”
Adrian Shelley, author of the report and director of Public Citizen Texas, said the reason the state hasn’t done something obvious like update these regulations with the latest data is because doing so would be a tacit recognition of climate change.
“The reason that there is this blind spot, honestly, it has to do with climate denialism,” Shelley said. “Climate denialism isn’t really mainstream or popular even among the Texas right anymore, but there’s still incredible resistance to doing anything that would be seen as climate regulation.”
Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at email@example.com