Oil refineries exist all over the country, but Texas leads the nation in oil refining with 27 refineries across the state. This unfortunately means that the health of employees and citizens in Texas could be at risk. There are a number of dangers associated with oil refineries due to the nature of what they do. Keep learning to find out why they pose health risks and what you can do to stay safe.

What Happens at an Oil Refinery?

An oil refinery is a processing plant where oil is refined, meaning it’s transformed into various products for consumers.

First, oil refineries acquire large amounts of crude oil, which is the raw petroleum state of oil. The crude oil is then stored in these refineries until it’s time to begin the process.

The refining process begins by heating the crude oil with a furnace, then distilling and separating the product by boiling point. Once broken down into its various components, the next steps in the process may include applying more heat, pressure, or a catalyst in order to produce final products. These products, such as gasoline, diesel, and asphalt, are then distributed around the country through methods such as pipelines, barges, and trucks.

The Dangers of Oil Refineries

Due to the materials being processed in refineries and the equipment that is used, they pose risks to both their employees and the public. Ideally we should be able to rely on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to oversee and regulate oil companies, but there is only so much they can do.

Risks to Employees

Employees or contractors who work in refineries are obviously the most at risk, and there are around 100,000 oil refinery workers in Texas. There have been plenty of incidents at refineries such as fires and crushings that have resulted in injured Texas construction workers. Injuries sustained often include burns, brain injuries, hearing loss, lacerations, broken bones, lung damage, and in some cases death. These risks are similar to those at any construction site; equipment is heavy and noisy, and falls are common. But one of the added risks at refineries is fires and explosions, due to the high temperatures and flammable substances involved.

Risks to Civilians

Unfortunately, even those who don’t work at oil refineries may still be in danger. Refineries produce toxic emissions and can affect those living around them. This pollution can cause adverse health effects such as cancer, asthma, and birth defects. One issue in the oil industry is a pattern of underreporting toxic emissions, meaning that the public isn’t fully aware of the dangers. Statistics show that even civilians living 10 miles away are still at risk of developing health issues. Studies also show that minorities are disproportionately affected by the toxic emissions, due to wealth gaps and poor city planning pushing them to live closer to refineries. 

The best thing you can do to stay safe is to stay as far away from oil refineries as possible. Check out this interactive map to see the location of all refineries in the USA and find out if you live near one.

USA oil refineries map

Source: https://earthjustice.org/