Extreme Temperature Diary- Sunday January 30th, 2022/ Main Topic: Another Fossil Fuel Company Trick…Diversification into Plastics

The main purpose of this ongoing blog will be to track global extreme or record temperatures related to climate change. Any reports I see of ETs will be listed below the main topic of the day. I’ll refer to extreme or record temperatures as ETs (not extraterrestrials).😉

Main Topic: Another Fossil Fuel Company Trick…Diversification into Plastics

Dear Diary. I can remember a time, in what seems like the distant past, in which milk was bottled in glass. That changed during the 1970s, at least in the United States. After that decade the use of plastics exploded with many microwave meal trays being made out of the stuff. To this day it seems like food containers made out of plastic are on the increase. If you’ve recently been to a grocery store or bought fast food, you’ve noticed that you just can’t avoid plastics.

We are told that the era of big oil is about over, although I rather doubt that. To maximize profits and boost the price of oil, petroleum companies have learned to partner with the food container industry. Yes, the manufacturing of plastics helps fossil fuel companies stay afloat, even when there is a glut of oil on the market. Oh, and I’m quite sure that the manufacture of plastics itself also adds to carbon pollution, both from energy usage and release of carbon into the atmosphere from chemical reactions to transform oil into plastics standpoints.

Furthermore, plastics are a huge ecological problem in our oceans as shown by many journalistic photographers. And yet, a fourth reason for their non-use could be that they leach into our food, particularly when microwaved. If petroleum is carcinogenic then plastics probably are, as well.

Today let’s concentrate on one company’s plans to diversify more into plastics:

https://www.desmog.com/2022/01/27/exxon-sabic-gulf-coast-plastics-greenhouse-gas-pollution/

While Exxon Touts Net-Zero Promise, its Huge Plastics Complex Goes Online in Texas

Neighbors of the new Gulf Coast Growth Ventures facility near Corpus Christi say ExxonMobil and SABIC have left them in the dark while courting local regulators.

By Julie Dermansky on Jan 27, 2022 @ 06:00 PST 

A tower flares at night at a petrochemical plant along the Gulf Coast of Texas.
Tower flare at Exxon-SABIC’s Gulf Coast Growth Ventures complex in Portland, Texas, on December 9, 2021. Credit: Julie Dermansky

The same day ExxonMobil announced its ambition to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, word spread that its mammoth plastics manufacturing complex near Corpus Christi, Texas, had begun production. 

“We are up and operating. We have been for a while,” Paul B. Fritsch, site manager for ExxonMobil’s joint venture with Saudi Basic Industries Corp, (SABIC), told the governing body of the Port of Corpus Christi at its Jan. 18 meeting.

The facility, known as an ethane steam cracker, will feed the production of nurdles – tiny pellets that serve as raw materials for plastic products. The plant’s state air permit allows it to send more than 3.5 million tons per year of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The irony of promising net-zero emissions while firing up a greenhouse-gas polluter was not lost on some critics.

“Pledging to make your operations ‘net zero’ when your entire raison d’etre is to continue producing the fossil fuels destroying the livable world: this is like pledging to become more energy-efficient when your business is manufacturing electric chairs,” Genevieve Guenther, an author and activist who specializes in fossil-fuel industry disinformation, wrote on Twitter the day of ExxonMobil’s announcement.

The ExxonMobil-SABIC partnership, known as Gulf Coast Growth Ventures (GCGV), began construction of the plant in once-rural San Patricio County, on Texas’ Coastal Bend, in 2019. The GCGV facility is in addition to 31 new petrochemical projects along the Texas and Louisiana coasts that collectively will generate 50 million tons of greenhouse-gas pollution — the equivalent of 11 new coal-fired power plants, according to a report by the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization. 

In a Jan. 20 press release, GCGV said its site started operations ahead of schedule.

It will produce “materials used in packaging, agricultural film, construction materials, clothing, and automotive coolants.” In other words, mostly nurdles and antifreeze.

“We built this state-of-the-art chemical plant ahead of schedule and below budget, by leveraging our global projects expertise in execution planning and delivery, while keeping everyone safe and healthy,” Karen McKee, president of ExxonMobil Chemical Company, is quoted as saying.

Whether people in San Patricio County are kept “safe and healthy” remains to be seen.

Exxon-SABIC’s Gulf Coast Growth Ventures facility, shown here on December 10, 2021, will produce materials used to manufacture plastics and antifreeze. Credit: Julie Dermansky

Elida Castillo, the program director of Chispa Texas, an environmental advocacy group, lives five miles from the plant and has watched two tower flares burn for weeks. People who live closer have complained about noise and pollution from ground flares.

“The plant is not a good neighbor,” Castillo said. She worries about carcinogens, such as benzene, that are released into the air by the constant flaring. 

Neither ExxonMobil nor SABIC responded to my questions about community members’ pollution concerns — or complaints that GCGV hadn’t publicly announced the plant had begun operation. After my queries — and a full week after the port commission meeting — GCGV posted updates about the facility’s start-up activities to social media and sent an email to a community list.

Fritsch told port commissioners at the Jan. 18 meeting that the plant’s two major products — polyethylene and ethylene glycol — are used to make everyday items such as packaging and polyester clothing. “Likely everyone is wearing something with a polyester blend in it,” he said.

Two commissioners were solicitous of Fritsch. Catherine Tobin Hilliard asked for a private tour. Rajan Ahuja wanted a souvenir. Fritsch responded positively to both requests and said all the commissioners would be invited to GCGV’s grand opening celebration.

After Fritsch finished his presentation, the port’s chief executive officer, Sean Strawbridge, asked him to talk about ExxonMobil’s net-zero commitment.

“This, I would say, is a very greenhouse-gas friendly facility relative to previous generations of plants that were built, but it’s not net zero,” Fritsch said. “We need to think about how we do that. It is not something we can wait until 2045 to think about.”

Screenshot of the Port of Corpus Christi Authority’s Jan. 18 port commission meeting. Here the Gulf Coast Growth Ventures site manager Paul Fritsch presents to the port commission.

Three people weighed in by video during a public-comment period at the beginning of the meeting. All were critical of the commission’s support of permitting proposed desalination projects they argue aren’t needed by residents and would benefit only industrial facilities like GCGV, which require large amounts of scarce freshwater in an arid region. 

One of the speakers, retired lawyer Errol Summerlin, questioned the port’s and ExxonMobil’s relationships with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), part of the U.S. Department of Energy, and another presenter at the day’s port commission meeting.

“NREL is engaged in the analysis of hydrogen production through electrolysis, which requires massive amounts of water — water that is not available in South Texas but for desalination projects,” Summerlin said. 

NREL is advising the port on decarbonization and energy transition efforts, with a focus on the federal infrastructure bill’s mandate to build regional hubs of hydrogen producers and consumers. Such an effort relies on freshwater supplies from the desalination projects under consideration by the port — and, as Summerlin pointed out, would also benefit GCGV’s backers. 

While hydrogen can be produced from renewables, today it is primarily produced from natural gas — a major source of greenhouse-gas emissions and a major product of ExxonMobil — and would require capturing those emissions using technology that is not yet commercially viable.

None of the commissioners responded to the speakers’ comments.

By Julie Dermansky

While Exxon Touts Net-Zero Promise, its Huge Plastics Complex Goes Online in Texas

Julie Dermansky is a multimedia reporter and artist based in New Orleans. She is an affiliate scholar at Rutgers University’s Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights. Visit her website at www.jsdart.com.

Related:

Here are some “ET’s” reported the last few days:

Here is more climate and weather news from Sunday:

(As usual, this will be a fluid post in which more information gets added during the day as it crosses my radar, crediting all who have put it on-line. Items will be archived on this site for posterity. In most instances click on the pictures of each tweet to see each article. The most noteworthy items will be listed first.)

Now here are some of today’s articles and notes on the horrid COVID-19 pandemic:

(If you like these posts and my work please contribute via the PayPal widget, which has recently been added to this site. Thanks in advance for any support.) 

Guy Walton “The Climate Guy”

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