Refineries, plants essential to community in many ways

While some may view chemical plants and refineries as dangerous polluters, area industry has done much to improve air quality through carbon-capture technology and by adhering to strict regulations by both the state and federal government.

One example is Air Products, a carbon capture facility inside the Valero plant in Port Arthur.

“The Air Products project captures over a million tons of CO2 a year,” said Tim Dixon, manager of the Technical Programme of the IEA Greenhouse Gas R&D Programme (IEAGHG), based in the United Kingdom. Dixon and scientists from ten nations visited area refineries during a carbon capture workshop last June. “You’ve got well-developed transport infrastructure. … (Southeast Texas) also lends itself to being a hub for CO2 transport as well.”

As far as danger goes, according to the article “A mortality and morbidity study of refinery and petrochemical employees in Louisiana,” a Shell Health Surveillance System (HSS) study at the Norco Manufacturing Complex (NMC) on the east bank of the Mississippi River, 25 miles upriver from New Orleans, showed improvement there.

In an effort to examine the mortality experience of 4,221 employees from 1973 to 1999 and the illness absence patterns for 2,203 employees from 1990 to 1999, the study found no increased risk of mortality attributable to employment at this refinery and petrochemical facility.

“The favorable mortality finding is probably due to a combination of the healthy worker effect, the relative absence of risks related to employment at this facility, and the positive socioeconomic effects of continuing employment with its many benefits including greater access to medical care,” the study found. Furthermore, the study attributed “the loss of productivity (in terms of days of absence)” risk factors such as “smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity.”

On an annual average, smokers were absent 2.9 and 1.6 more days than non-smokers and ex-smokers, respectively. Overweight employees were absent one day longer. Employees with high blood pressure were absent 6.2 days compared to 4 days for employees without hypertension. Employees with increased cholesterol also had a longer duration of absence than those with normal cholesterol levels (4.5 versus 4.2 days), the study found.

All negatives aside, it’s important to note that area industrial facilities provide jobs and a boost to the economy with new projects and expansions.

During his keynote speech at the Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce Annual Banquet in January, Motiva CEO Brian Coffman explained the Port Arthur refinery’s crude expansion of 2007 not only doubled the refinery’s capacity and made it the nation’s largest refinery, but “the project cost more than $10 billion, and more than $3 billion of that was sourced locally and resulted in more than 300 permanent jobs at (the) refinery.”

In addition to being economic drivers and job creators, area petrochemical and refining companies are also staunch supporters of many important local non-profits that provide a plethora of services for Southeast Texans, with a great example being the Port Arthur Industry and Community Leaders Advisory Group (PAIG).

PAIG is a group of Port Arthur’s petrochemical industry companies that work closely with its Community Leaders Advisory Group to make Port Arthur a better place to live and work, according to PAIG spokesperson Carol Hebert, who is also manager of Community and Government Affairs at BASF.

Hebert said the group’s mission is to improve the quality of life and health of Port Arthur residents by enhancing educational, employment and health care opportunities; improving the environment; and supporting community improvements and economic development.

Port Arthur companies participating in PAIG include Air Products L.P., BASF TOTAL Petrochemicals LLC, Chevron Phillips Chemical Co., Flint Hills Resources, Motiva Enterprises LLC, Oxbow Calcining LLC, Port Arthur Steam Energy LP, Praxair, Total Petrochemicals & Refining USA, Inc., Valero, and Veolia Environmental Services.

Since 2003, the group has contributed over $2.5 million toward educational efforts for Port Arthur students, Hebert said, with over 300 college scholarships awarded and approximately 600 high school students receiving financial assistance.

“PAIG has sponsored the Texas Alliance for Minorities in Engineering (TAME) trailer at PAISD schools for many years, with the intent to excite students about careers in STEM,” Hebert said.

Other educational programs that receive support from PAIG member companies include area school district business partnerships, Junior Achievement, the JASON Project, Chemistry Week, Port Arthur Public Schools Foundation, career fairs, education summits, engineering job shadow programs, Finance Park, dictionary distributions, reading programs, project graduations, recruitment programs, back-to-school and student/teacher school supply support. Most of these programs are seeking minorities and females for participation to ensure a diverse group of students interested in STEM.

“Port Arthur industry contributes more than $265,000 annually for scholarships and academic programs for Port Arthur students and other targeted individuals,” she said. “More than $325,000 in additional support toward scholarship fundraising events and direct scholarships is also contributed.”

Additionally, industrial companies in Port Arthur and their employees contribute more than $1.75 million to United Way of Mid and South Jefferson County and provide additional support to other charitable, community and civic organizations, according to Hebert.

These organizations include Children’s Miracle Network, American Cancer Society, the Blue Santa program, Girls and Boys Haven, Girls and Boys Scouts, Port Arthur Neighborhood Action Council, Dr. Martin Luther King Support Group, Mardi Gras of Southeast Texas, various health fairs, school supply drives, Police and Fire Department projects, cultural events and festivals, health fairs, Young Audiences, Museum of the Gulf Coast, Port Arthur Historical Society, the Art Museum of Southeast Texas, Texas Energy Museum, Coastal Conservation Association, Ducks Unlimited, Gift of Life and many others.

“(PAIG) is somewhat of a staple in terms of a legacy of giving that has allowed us to perpetuate our services,” said Norma Sampson, executive director of the Gift of Life. “They are a substantial donor base and have endorsed our efforts. They come to the van sites.”

At the van sites, the Gift of Life enlists the UTMB Mobile Mammography Van and the Port Arthur Health Department as providers in the deliverance of free breast cancer screenings and preventative health tests, including blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol. Education regarding breast cancer, skin cancer, tobacco prevention and nutrition is also made available to encourage healthy lifestyle practices that reduce the risk of disease. Sampson said Barbara Phillips, public affairs manager for Valero Port Arthur Refinery and Verna Rutherford, external affairs manager at Motiva Port Arthur Refinery are regular visitors to the vans.

In addition to financial support, local industry employees invest thousands of hours each year as volunteers to support a multitude of programs and events. Volunteer hours by employees at these companies easily surpass 15,000 hours annually, Hebert said, with more than 5,500 of those hours being to support educational programs. Other volunteer hours include health and wellness walks, runs, and bike rides; social service projects and volunteer board service; athletic programs and much more.

“Their employees will often volunteer to help,” Sampson said. “Aside from their generosity, they truly are indicative of their commitment to community.”

This was especially essential after Hurricane Harvey hit the area, when member companies provided fuel for local governments,  boat rescues, and emergency housing and other assistance for employees, first responders, community residents and volunteers.

Special financial donations in excess of $4 million as well as in-kind contributions were made by the member companies to the American Red Cross, City of Port Arthur, Southeast Texas Emergency Relief Fund, Hurricane Harvey Recovery Fund, Port Arthur ISD, Lamar State College Port Arthur, Humane Society of Southeast Texas, 100 Club of Southeast Texas, Habitat for Humanity, and Austin Disaster Relief Network “Love Port Arthur” event, Hebert said.

“PAIG has a 17-year history of adapting to the current needs of the community. We plan to continue our commitment to work with citizens to help find solutions to challenges in our community. The future includes recruiting new community leaders of various generations to keep a pulse on our community,” she said.