Back to mobile

Gulf Chemical Fires Back at TO Story

by Published on
Photo by Eric Kayne

After publication of my story on Gulf Chemical, I was contacted by McDonald Public Relations, an Austin PR firm representing the company. As noted in the article, Gulf never responded to multiple email and phone requests for comment and I had no way of knowing McDonald PR represented Gulf. It’s hard to fully represent someone’s position when they won’t talk to you. So while I’m happy to run Gulf’s comments after the fact (see below), it’s also rather frustrating to hear them express disappointment that details weren’t included in an article in which they didn’t participate.

It’s also worth noting that Gulf’s vice-president for operations is simply incorrect when he asserts that I made “no mention” of their new sulfur scrubbers. I would refer readers and Mr. Stephan to the first paragraph of the last section. I would also note that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality told me that these long-delayed scrubbers are still under construction and won’t be operational until at least December. Moreover, the agency said that the pollution monitoring systems that Stephan mentions in his letter “have not been certified and will be considered invalid” until an audit is done.

 

Dear Editor:

While Texas Observer reporter Forrest Wilder dedicated thousands of words to past allegations made against Gulf Chemical & Metallurgical Corporation (GCMC) in an article published earlier this month, we were disappointed that no effort was made to discuss the extensive, systematic changes that have been made at GCMC in the last two years.

Dramatic and significant improvements have been made at GCMC during this time – and any report about our facility that fails to mention those environmental and operational upgrades is incomplete at best and inaccurate at worst.

We reached a settlement with the State of Texas on past water issues in 2010, and are working with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the State Attorney General regarding other alleged past environmental violations. We have successfully resolved many of those issues, and will continue working with the agency in the coming days, weeks and months to resolve the remaining issues. None of these items are even mentioned in Mr. Wilder’s article.

Our parent company, Eramet, committed to making the major capital expenditures necessary to improve the environmental performance of the facility now and into the future. GCMC and Eramet are confident in and fully support their current team.

The centerpiece of the GCMC’s environmental improvement strategy is a $35 million investment in the plant’s sulfur dioxide capture systems. Construction began on this custom-designed, state-of-the-art equipment in 2010. The system which uses lime to absorb more than 95 percent of the sulfur dioxide from the plant’s exhaust will be completed this year. Nine local companies are participating in the design, engineering and construction of the project. Again, no mention of this significant investment and commitment to the environmental performance of Gulf was anywhere to be found in Mr. Wilder’s article.

GCMC has also implemented more than $2 million in improvements to the plant’s wastewater treatment systems. These improvements are part of work that actually began in 2010 and continued through 2011. This work includes installation of new filtration systems to remove traces of metal and other particulates from wastewater prior to discharge and numerous improvements to wastewater storage, monitoring and testing facilities. Again, Mr. Wilder’s article did not provide a summary of these installations.

Another important improvement is a three-year, $2.5 million upgrade of the plant operations monitoring systems. This new system will give the GCMC plant operators a new level of transparency into the plant’s operations and allow for better record-keeping on environmental compliance and allow more efficient recycling of the spent catalyst that would otherwise be placed in landfills. The technology will provide instant feedback on critical operational parameters and provide historical trending data that will allow operators to predict and proactively control the process.

To summarize, Gulf Chemical & Metallurgical Corporation is an environmental services company, we recognize the history of the company, and are fully committed to an environmental action plan as part of our agreement with the State that includes the following:

  • Soil sampling onsite and on adjacent properties
  • Independent, third-party audits for air, water and wastewater compliance
  •  Independent, third-party audit to review the facility’s structural integrity programs
  • Installation of SO2 scrubber ($35 million)
  • Upgrade of air monitoring equipment.

GCMC provides a valuable environmental service and an economic benefit to the region and Texas. We are taking the necessary steps to ensure that our facility is compliant with all state and federal environmental regulations. Here at GCMC, we recycle used oil refinery catalyst – and we are the largest company in the world that is turning the ingredients of those catalysts back into natural products. In 2012 alone we will recycle approximately 2,500 tons of ceramics and 30,000 gallons of oil.

Over the last 50 years we’ve been in business, GCMC has processed approximately 1,300,000 tons of spent catalyst. That is enough to completely fill the Houston Astrodome over 5 times, rather than the equivalent space in our nation’s landfills.

Our Freeport plant remains one of the only permitted RCRA facilities for catalyst recycling in the United States, and we are taking all necessary steps to protect the environment and ensure the health and safety of our employees and the citizens in Freeport. Regretfully, Mr. Wilder focused on the past rather than highlighting the progress achieved through the mutual goals and dedication of Gulf’s employees, the people in our community, and the TCEQ.

We at GCMC are more concerned with moving forward and continuing to build the trust of our employees, the people in our community, the environmental agencies and our shareholders – in short, becoming a dependable, responsible corporate resident of the Freeport community.

Sincerely,

Robert Stephan
Senior Vice President – Operations
on behalf of GCMC, its employees, and management team.

Forrest Wilder, a native of Wimberley, Texas, is associate editor of the Observer. Forrest specializes in environmental reporting and runs the “Forrest for the Trees” blog. Forrest has appeared on Democracy Now!, The Rachel Maddow Show and numerous NPR stations. His work has been mentioned by The New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, Time magazine and many other state and national publications. Other than filing voluminous open records requests, Forrest enjoys fishing, kayaking, gardening and beer-league softball. He holds a bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin.