Satellite observations of formaldehyde (HCHO) columns provide top-down constraints on emissions of highly reactive volatile organic compounds (HRVOCs). This approach has been used previously in the US to estimate isoprene emissions from vegetation, but application to anthropogenic emissions has been stymied by lack of a discernable HCHO signal. Here we show that temporal oversampling of HCHO data from the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) for 2005–2008 enables detection of urban and industrial plumes in eastern Texas including Houston, Port Arthur, and Dallas/Fort Worth. By spatially integrating the HCHO enhancement in the Houston plume observed by OMI we estimate an anthropogenic HCHO source of 250 ± 140 kmol h −1 . This implies that anthropogenic HRVOC emissions in Houston are 4.8 ± 2.7 times higher than reported by the US Environmental Protection Agency inventory, and is consistent with field studies identifying large ethene and propene emissions from petrochemical industrial sources.