Houston’s environmental nightmare scenario: storm surge hitting chemical plants

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The greatest economic threat to the Houston area is surge flooding, given its potential for widespread destruction.

This is the conclusion of a new report by Jim Blackburn of Rice University’s Baker Institute and co-director the university’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters Center (SSPEED).

Surge is the water that rushes inland generated by hurricane-level storms. Surge is like a Battering Ram to life and property.

As a result of storm surge, “the loss of production in the Galveston Bay shoreline area would profoundly affect U.S. national security, regional and local economies in Texas and people’s lives and well-being,” Blackburn wrote in the report. “The failure to talk honestly and directly about climate change is a major problem that could lead to the deaths of thousands of people, harm to the national economy and destruction of a key economic engine for the region.”

Unique to the Houston region is the Houston Ship Channel, the largest petro-chemical energy center in the U.S. It is the site of the oil tanker collision last week that led to thousands of gallons of oil spilling into the Channel.

Chemical tanks are protected from about 15 feet storm surges. Anything above that could lead to tanks floating and leaking, leading to what Phil Bedient of the SSPEED Center said would be “one of worst environment disasters in the history of the United States.”

Officials from the SSPEED Center are speaking Wednesday at a community meeting on storm surge and flood prevention hosted by Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia.

The Texas Signal will be providing an in-depth report from the meeting.

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