Texas prides itself on its history in the oil business. As one of the pioneers of the modern energy economy, the fact Texas still drills offshore, refines onshore, and now is working in natural gas not only enriches the state but is an important aspect of the state’s overall identity. It matches well with the state’s sense of independence and purpose. The Lone Star State can make its own energy, pay its own bills, and make its own way without anyone else. That’s always been the state’s ethos, and oil and gas help it continue to feel that way.
But is it time for Texas to change? Recently, there was an explosion at a Marathon oil refinery in Texas City. Accidents at plants and refineries are not as rare as might be hoped. In this case, luckily, no one was hurt, but the accident does speak to a larger concern, especially coupled with the recent devastation due to Hurricane Harvey.
Refining oil is a dangerous business in the best of circumstances. Dealing with toxic and combustible chemicals mean any small mistake can have serious consequences. Refineries in Texas have always done an excellent job containing these problems, but their extreme caution may not be enough in coming decades.
That is because climate change may change the way Texas has to approach energy. If climate scientists are right, hurricanes like Harvey could become increasingly common in the Gulf of Mexico, and if they make regular inroads into Texas, that puts those toxic and combustible chemicals at risk of explosions within the refineries and also leaking out into the nearby towns and cities.
Already, there is some risk this might have occurred due to Harvey. More storms, more often, radically increases the chances more damage will be done.
Is it still safe for Texas to keep drilling offshore and refining near the coast? So far, no one wants to claim otherwise, and yet, it must be on the minds of every person in the oil business at the moment.
With the country having been battered by three major hurricanes in a single season for the first time ever, there are more than enough ill omens to reconsider some decisions. Among them, perhaps, the decision to keep coastal Texas so integral to the oil business in America.
It may now be time to explore other options. For instance, simply moving the refineries further inland. Though costs will rise due to transportation, having refineries inland will offer greater protections against climate events.
Another option would be to explore importing more oil again and closing down some refineries in Texas. This is perhaps the least likely and least desirable option, but it must still be on the table.
Perhaps the rosiest potential change would be to begin a transition from oil to further investments in natural gas and renewable energy. Texas has a lot of sun and a lot of space, making it an ideal place to explore solar energy on a grand scale. Its plains would also be excellent sources of wind energy. With a history in energy exploration and science, the state could once again pioneer the next generation of energy.
Whether it chooses to take such a drastic and adventurous new course is yet to be seen, but with the risks of hurricanes rising, something will have to change.