Hurricane Harvey Poses Risks To Texas Consumers, Homeowners And Heavy Industry

Reporters across the state say the hurricane brings risk of price gauging, flooding in overdeveloped urban areas like Houston and threatens chemical storage tanks along Houston’s Ship Channel.

By Rhonda Fanning and Leah Scarpelli August 25, 2017 12:57 pm| , , , , , , ,

Texas Standard gathered reporting from around the state on the current and potential impact of Hurricane Harvey on Texas businesses and the state’s economy.

Volunteers from around Texas stand ready to lift a hand when Hurricane Harvey makes landfalls on the Texas coast. But Texas Public Radio’s Ryan Poppe reports that others are eyeing the wallets of those caught in the storm:

The Texas Attorney General’s Office is urging people in the designated disaster areas to be on the lookout for price gauging.

Paul Singer, with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection division, says there is a statute in place meant to protect consumers.

“It is illegal price gauging when items that are necessities — so things like fuel, food, medicine — those types of items, are sold at an exorbitant or excessive price,” he says.

But, Singer adds that regulations on price gauging only apply in the disaster areas designated by the governor.

From Houston Public Media:

Houston’s heavy industry is gearing up for Harvey.

Refineries say they’re closely watching the forecast. Congressman Gene Green, whose district is filled with heavy industry, says some plants will likely scale down in the days ahead.

“They’re probably already doing it right now,” Green says. “Whether it be Exxon in Baytown, Shell in Deer Park, or the other three refineries that are actually in our district.”

In Corpus Christi, reports say two refineries are closing down. Petrochemical giant LyondellBasell says it has activated severe weather plans at facilities in Houston, Corpus Christi and Bay City.

“There are just a ton of things going on, as we speak, to kind of batten down the hatches,” says Rice University flood expert and engineering Professor Phil Bedient. He says plants along Houston’s Ship Channel are mostly equipped to handle the heavy rains Harvey is expected to bring.

“In the absence of any significant storm surge, it’s going to be a much safer situation for them,” Bedient says.

In the Gulf of Mexico, oil companies have been evacuating platforms. Government data shows Harvey temporarily halted almost 10 percent of Gulf oil production as of Thursday morning.

Houston is a rapidly growing city. Millions of people have moved there, spurring growth and development, much of which is on land that used to absorb water — now it’s paved over, creating more storm runoff.

Houston is also home to the Ship Channel, which includes large chemical manufacturing plants and refineries, and is a major thoroughfare for those chemical products, refined petroleum products and cargo, in general.

Neena Satija, investigative reporter for the Texas Tribune and for the public radio program, Reveal, says Houston isn’t ready for a hurricane like Harvey.

She says the combination of population growth, increased development and insufficient planning by local government primes the city for major problems when it comes to handling a deluge of rainwater.

Satija says the chemical storage tanks along Houston’s Ship Channel are meant to withstand heavy winds, but are more vulnerable to storm surge. Luckily, at least for the moment, Harvey is not predicted to cause large storm surges in the Houston area.

Houston is also known for its lax zoning laws, and Satija says city officials don’t buy into the idea that increased development is creating a greater risk for flooding. She says scientists say otherwise.

“The scientists are very clear on this; there seems to be no debate. What’s happened in Houston in terms of development and population growth has increased its risk of flooding,” she says.

 

Written by Caroline Covington.