Pasadena Refining: A Troubled Start to 2017

It’s no secret that Pasadena Refining Systems, Inc. (PRSI) is the most troubled oil refinery on the Houston Ship Channel. At Air Alliance Houston, we have been sounding the alarm about this facility for years. It has massive emissions events that spew tons of particulate matter into the air–unlike any other refinery in the region. Workers and contractors have told us in confidence that they dread working at the facility. And of course it has a long history of labor disputes, explosions, and other scandals.

Now Pasadena Refining is off to a great start in 2017. On January 2nd the company flared sulfur dioxide after an upset in its flare gas recovery system. Then for 72 hours from January 4-7 the company emitted 15 tons of particulate matter during the startup of its fluidized catalytic cracking unit. Although its emissions are just estimates for now, the total volume of this release was as follows:


You can read the full report for this event on the TCEQ STEERS database.

This enormous, planned release of pollution on the citizens of Pasadena probably would have gone unnoticed by anyone, but for the Neighborhood Witness tool developed by Environment Texas, Air Alliance Houston, and our allies. By signing up for Neighborhood Witness, you get a daily email listing all of the emissions event reports in the state (or just in your region, if you prefer).

I may be one of the few people in Texas who actually checked STEERS reports on a regular basis before Neighborhood Witness existed. But now that it does, anyone can pay attention to air pollution near them.

So, what do you do when you learn about a pollution event that concerns you? File a complaint! The first place I go to file complaints in the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, who you can email at (yes, the O is missing, don’t ask) or call at 888-777-3186. When I file a complaint, I let TCEQ know I am concerned about pollution’s impact on my health, I want TCEQ to investigate the incident and enforce on it, and I want to be updated about the progress of any action. Neighborhood Witness also lets you automate the complaint process. With just a few clicks of a mouse, you can have Neighborhood Witness send in a generic complaint for you.

Oh yeah, and after I filed a complaint, I told the press. Pasadena Refining is on everyone’s naughty list these days, so anything they do is of interest to local media.

With all this scrutiny by the press and local regulators, what will Pasadena Refining do? Well, they’ve already reported another upset event and scheduled yet another massive pollution event! For 50 days starting around January 13, PRSI will conduct a major turnaround of their facility. A turnaround consists of shutting down units at the plant, working on them, and then restarting them. Turnarounds are massive operations that may be planned a year or more in advance. PRSI operates with a permanent crew of fewer than 200 workers. For this turnaround they will bring on more than 1,000 contractors. (And if you are thinking that having five times as many people on site who aren’t familiar with local practice and procedures is a recipe for disaster, then you are not alone.) Here’s a statement about the turnaround released by PRSI to the Pasadena Citizens Advisory Council:

Pasadena Refining to begin a turnaround on January 13, 2017

Pasadena Refining System, Inc. (PRSI) will begin a turnaround of several units at its refinery, including the Fluid Catalytic Cracker (FCC), starting on January 13, 2017. The completion of all units under turnaround is expected to take 50 days.

The purpose of the turnaround is to safely inspect and verify integrity and improve reliability of the units.

There will be an estimated 1,000 additional contractors on site. A traffic plan will minimize heavy vehicles near the Washburn Tunnel and officers will help direct traffic during peak times. In compliance with legislation, PRSI informed the authorities in advance about estimates of possible atmospheric emissions during the shutdown procedure.

Safety Awards and Distinctions

PRSI earned the Award for Safety Achievement and the Meritorious Safety Award from American Fuels and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) in May 2014.

The Pasadena Chamber of Commerce recognized PRSI in May 2016 for 58 years of membership, and in 2011 honored the refinery with the Pasadena Industry of the Year Award.

About Pasadena Refining System, Inc. (PRSI)

PRSI, which is a part of the Petrobras system, is a refiner of petroleum products, including petrochemical feedstocks. It is strategically located on the Houston Ship Channel with a 110,000 barrel per day refining capacity.

from Spencer Sevy, Pasadena Refining


This newly planned emissions event has already prompted its first STEERS report. If their intention is to file these reports in 72 hour increments, then I suppose we can expect sixteen more of them to follow.

It looks like it will be a hell of a year for Pasadena Refining System, Inc. How much pollution are the people of Pasadena expected to endure? Will the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality ever step in and say, “Enough is enough”?

Whatever they do, Air Alliance Houston will be watching.