HOUSTON (Reuters) - A multi-billion dollar boom in petrochemical plants proposed along the U.S. Gulf Coast could pump as much greenhouse gas into the air as 131 coal-fired power plants by 2030, according to a study released on Tuesday by University of Texas researchers.
The study calculated that facilities that have been put forward for projects in Texas and Louisiana over the last three years could generate 541 million tons of greenhouse gases by the start of the next decade, trapping heat that leads to climate warming.
The Gulf Coast petrochemical buildout alone will generate more than 8% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according the study’s co-author, Andrew Waxman, an assistant professor of economics and public policy at the University of Texas at Austin.
“This is looking at something that has not been looked at before – the industrial sector,” Waxman said in an interview.
A U.S. petrochemical construction wave emerged last decade founded on cheap natural gas extracted from shale fields. About $200 billion in projects were proposed between 2010 and 2018, according to the American Chemistry Council trade group.
Environmentalists said the pollution would lead to climate-related problems for residents.
“We are going to see many more extreme weather events in Texas, said Neil Carman, clean air director for the Lone Star Chapter of the environmental group Sierra Club. “It shows we are going down the wrong path.”
But a separate study released by the Texas Oil & Gas Association said taxes on energy producers last year contributed $16 billion to Texas schools, roads, emergency services and health care.
“That’s money that benefits every Texan - whether you live near the oil patch or not,” said Todd Staples, president of the energy trade group.
Proposed oil and gas storage terminals, pipelines, refineries and petrochemical plants in Texas would generate roughly the equivalent of 131 coal-fired power plants, or 82% of the state’s 2016 greenhouse gas emissions, the pollution study estimated.
Planned petrochemical plants - which primarily make feedstocks for plastics widely used in autos, food wrap and toys - would account for a third of the anticipated emissions, according to the study.
The study focuses on projects planned in Texas and Louisiana. Currently, refineries in those two states account for 48% of national capacity.
Emma Pabst, global warming associate with Environment Texas, said the report adds to evidence the world needs to move away from dependence on oil and natural gas.
“Texas is embarking on a fool’s errand, building infrastructure that will lock us into decades of polluting fossil fuels, and impairing our ability to achieve what our climate reality requires,” Pabst said.
Cheap natural gas from shale fields is fueling the expansion of the region’s refineries and chemical plants, said Ilan Levin, associate director of the Environmental Integrity Project.
“The manufacturing that’s being driven by cheap and abundant gas makes it a lot harder for us to avoid the worst build-out,” Levin said.
Reporting by Erwin Seba; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell