Could the explosions at the Arkema chemical plant in Harris County outside Houston, Texas that occurred in the wake of Hurricane Harvey happen here in Providence in the event of a large enough storm?
The answers to these questions is not only “yes” but it appears such a situation is inevitable, unless changes are made.
Conservation Law foundation (CLF) filed a lawsuit against Shell on August 28 “for the company’s endangerment of the Providence River and local communities…
“Located along the banks of the Providence Harbor, Shell’s Providence Terminal sits directly in harm’s way as sea levels rise, rains become more intense, and storms become more extreme. CLF’s suit contends that Shell has failed to protect its Providence Terminal against the effects of climate change and has violated the conditions of its permit,” said CLF.
“…we saw thousands of homes destroyed, streets flooded and families displaced by Hurricane Harvey,” said CLF president Bradley Campbell. “We can’t wait around for the next natural disaster to inundate our communities. Shell’s facility sits on the banks of the Providence River, poised to spew toxic chemicals into our waters and our neighborhoods with no adequate safeguards in place. If the loss of life and damage from storms like Hurricane Harvey aren’t enough of a wake-up call, then legal action is needed to protect the public.”
The lawsuit contends that, “CLF and its members are… concerned about, and have an interest in eliminating the risk from, the pollutants from the Providence Terminal that will wash into the Providence River, the Providence Harbor, and Narragansett Bay, as well as into nearby communities and ecosystems, when the Providence Terminal is flooded by increased and/or more intense precipitation, increased magnitude and frequency of storm events, increased magnitude and frequency of storm surge, and/or sea level rise.” (page 4)
On page 11, CLF is more blunt: “The Providence Terminal will be inundated, in whole or in part, by storm surge associated with a Category 1, 2, 3, or 4 storm event.”
CLF goes on to say, on page 11:
The majority of the Providence Terminal East Side Tank Farm is included within a ‘Category 1’ and ‘Category 2’ Hurricane Surge Inundation Zone, nearly the entire Providence Terminal is included within the ‘Category 3’ Hurricane Surge Inundation Zone, and the entire Providence Terminal is included within the ‘Category 4’ Hurricane Surge Inundation Zone.
“In addition to the certainty of inundation from storm surge, the Providence Terminal is now and will continue to be regularly subject to the more than seventy percent increase in intense rains experienced throughout the Northeastern United States, including in Providence, as a result of climate change. These rains more likely than not overwhelm the Providence Terminal’s stormwater management system, and increase illicit discharges from the Providence Terminal’s operations.”
“In Texas last week, we saw Shell publicly admit that inundation of its facility led to toxic pollutants being released into the atmosphere,” said Josh Block, CLF press secretary. “The data is clear that with a severe flood or even a Category 1 storm — a storm far less intense than Harvey or Irma — Shell’s Providence Terminal could face a similar fate. Further, Shell is well aware of the risk its facility poses to the Rhode Island community yet has not taken adequate, legally-required steps to address it.”
Timmons Roberts, professor of Environmental Studies and Sociology at Brown University and rower with the Narragansett Boat Club, commented, “I frequently row past the Shell Providence Terminal, and to the extent that there are pollutants spewing into that water, I am coming into direct contact with them on a regular basis. It is irresponsible that Shell has knowingly put the people of Rhode Island, students, and my own children in harm’s way, and I am proud to stand with CLF in righting this wrong.”