Exxon Mobil Beaumont Refinery

By: Jasmine Babbs, SFSU, 2017

History

The Charlton-Pollard area of Beaumont, Texas is home an Exxon Mobil refinery. The refinery opened in the early 1900s after a salt dome oil field, the Lucas gusher at Spindletop, was discovered in the area. The discovery of oil at this location assisted in leading the United States into the oil age, where we still reside today. At the time of its initial striking, this area was said to produce more oil in one day than the rest of the oil fields in the United States combined. According to the Texas State Historical Association, “three major oil companies—the Texas Company (later Texaco), Gulf Oil Corporation, and Humble (later Exxonqv)—were formed in Beaumont during the first year of the boom.”[1] Exxon Mobil, formerly known as The Magnolia Refinery,  “became the city’s largest employer; by 1980 it was Mobil’s largest manufacturing plant” [1] . Today it continues to be the largest employer for those that live in the area, but now struggles to maintain a positive image amongst the community.

Sustainability Issues

This energy site focuses on refining crude oil/fossil fuel that comes out of the ground, into usable gasoline to power cars, boats, trains, buses, tractors and heavy construction equipment. Lesser known uses of the oil are for heating and generating electricity. While the refinery has brought jobs to the area, something generally seen as a positive thing, it has also come with extremely negative consequences that clearly outweigh the employment aspect. In addition to foul and sour smelling air, residents in the vicinity of the refinery have reported various health problems such as: asthma, birth defects, cancer, hair/memory loss, headaches, and heart disease.

Charlton-Pollard-corrected-759x475
Map of the Charlton-Pollard area of Beaumont, Texas and its proximity to the Exxon Mobil refinery. (Source: Google Maps)

The blatant issue is the extremely high levels of emissions coming from this refinery and constant disregard of federal law regarding the acceptable amount of emissions, both of which have a extremely negative impact the residents. The emissions released include: “benzene, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxide, hydrogen sulfide and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs)” [2], all of which are detrimental to human health and environmental wellbeing. The Exxon Mobil Refinery, along with other refineries in Texas regularly ignore laws put in place such as the Clean Air Act, which is responsible for enforcing action against companies/refineries that have illegal pollution releases. Recently, a Texas court found that Exxon Mobil violated the Clean Air Act a total of 16,386 times resulting in a $21 million dollar fine. This ruling came seven years after the company was sued by Environment Texas and the Sierra Club for “failed to implement technology that would curb emissions” [3] and specifically addressed the Baytown refinery, not Beaumont.

Those disproportionately affected by this environmental injustice are the residents of the Charlton-Pollard area, a predominantly African American community. Members of this community have filed several lawsuits with the EPA only to get responses in a matter of years. What is going on there is a form of environmental racism, as many residents complain of severe health problems and lack of follow up/enforcement of regulations and fines on this refinery. The complaint filed against the EPA by the residents in of the area in 2000 has only now in 2017 been “accepted for investigation by the EPA” [4]. The complaint includes “allowing Exxon to release pollutants above safe levels, failed to adequately penalize the company for exceeding emission limits and not allowing public participation through a contested case hearing” [2]. Unfortunately, “Between 2000 and 2016, while the people who live next to the plant waited for an investigation, the refinery emitted more than 400 million pounds of pollution into the air” [5]

Environmental racism is occurring here in two important ways. First, Exxon Mobil clearly ignores the operating rules in this community and continues to violate them, putting the health of the residents and their environment in serious danger. Exxon Mobil clearly demonstrates a lack of care for the community by paying the fines and continuing to emit heavily.  Second, the EPA continues to ignore this communities request for investigation which is clearly a form of institutional racism. The EPA’s job is to regulate/protect the environment and investigate any wrongdoing on behalf of any corporation in any community.

 

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View of Exxon Mobil oil refinery from the street. (Source: Beaumont Enterprise)

Solutions

All of these problems come together to create an environment in which the residents of the area do not have a say in what goes on in their communities. Hopefully, shedding light on this issue can educate others on the results of environmental racism and help the community move toward better regulation on their environmental conditions. Our reliance on oil feeds into the existing unequal power dynamic between communities like Beaumont and oil behemoths like Exxon Mobil. Because oil has become a staple in our everyday lives, particularly for transportation, companies like Exxon have been able to accumulate large amounts of money continuously, which helps them to ignore laws put in place for emission violations. If the EPA would drastically increase the fines for violating the rules,  oil companies would be deterred from breaking the law. Because these fines pale in comparison to their revenue, Exxon and others will continue to feel comfortable violating state/federal laws and civil/human rights as well. Together, we must acknowledge the impact our oil dependence has on marginalized communities that house the facilities that bear the brunt of the environmental impact for us to ultimately make use of this energy source.

 

References

[1] ISAAC, P. E. (2010, June 11). BEAUMONT, TX. Retrieved December 01, 2017, from https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hdb02

[2] Bright, I., & Tropical-Rainforest-Animals.com. (2008, April). Air Pollutants, Types and Classification. Retrieved December 01, 2017, from http://www.tropical-rainforest-animals.com/Air-Pollutants.html

[2] Sadasivam, N. (2017, June 02). After 17 Years, EPA Settles Racial Discrimination Case Against TCEQ. Retrieved December 01, 2017, from https://www.texasobserver.org/after-17-years-epa-settles-racial-discrimination-case-against-tceq/

[3] Visser, N. (2017, April 27). Exxon Fined $21 Million For Violating Clean Air Act 16,386 Times. Retrieved December 01, 2017, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/exxon-texas-clean-air-act_us_59019dafe4b0af6d718b82f2

[4]Environmental Protection Agency (2017, October 31). Exxonmobil Oil Corporation Clean Air Act Settlement Retrieved December 01, 2017, from https://www.epa.gov/enforcement/exxon-mobil-corporationexxonmobil-oil-corporation-clean-air-act-settlement

[5] Lerner, S. (2017, August 13). Exxon Mobil Is Still Pumping Toxins Into Black Community in Texas 17 Years After Civil Rights Complaint. Retrieved December 01, 2017, from https://theintercept.com/2017/08/13/exxon-mobil-is-still-pumping-toxins-into-black-community-in-texas-17-years-after-civil-rights-complaint/

 

 

 

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