Residents fear refinery expansion plans along Wasatch Front

Published: Friday, March 23 2012 12:22 p.m. MDT

Tesoro oil refinery in Salt Lake City, Utah, June 18, 2008.

Ashley Lowery, Deseret News archives

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SALT LAKE CITY — Pending expansions for two refineries clustered along the border of Salt Lake City and southern Davis County are fueling fears among area residents and pollution watch dogs who say the air is already dirty enough.

A citizens group called the Davis County Community Coalition has been joined by Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and the Sierra Club to muster opposition to expansion proposals for Tesoro's refinery in Salt Lake City and HollyFrontier in Woods Cross.

Tesoro's plans are the subject of a public comment period that the state Division of Air Quality agreed to extend another month to April 22. The division will also host a meeting for public input at 6:30 p.m. April 17, in room 1015 of the Multi Agency State Office Building, 195 N. 1950 West.

Cecilee Price-Huish, the coalition's president, said since Davis and Salt Lake counties already fail to meet the EPA's mandated air quality standards for fine particulate, it is wrong for the state to allow industrial expansions before the problem is brought under control.

"It is a question of how much industry we can grow in this non-attainment area with air quality such a concern," she said.

The growing angst is being stoked by Chevron's upgrades already under way, Tesoro's expansion plans under review by air quality regulators and the announcement by HollyFrontier to sink $225 million into its Woods Cross refinery to nearly double production from 31,000 barrels a day to 60,000 barrels a day.

All three companies are looking to better accommodate handling and processing of thick waxy crude that comes out of eastern Utah.

Tesoro, for example, wants to add tanks, new unloading racks and a loading bay to more efficiently handle receipt of the yellow wax crude and black wax crude, which is a thick, gelatin-like material that has to be transferred from the tanker trucks quickly.

"As we have worked with the refineries over the years, they have avoided this heavy crude," said Marty Gray, the state air quality division's permitting manager for refineries. "This crude solidifies really quick. When they receive shipments of this heavy crude from eastern Utah, it has to go to the front of the line."

The motive for Tesoro to take more of the thick waxy crude is a new, 399-mile UNEV pipeline operated by HollyFrontier that began conveying the refined petroleum product to Las Vegas earlier this year.

The Nevada connection has local residents fuming.

"Davis County citizens will not accept more toxic emissions in order to feed the fuel demands of out-of-state consumers," the coalition said. "While economic development is good, it is only acceptable if local air quality does not worsen as a result."

Gray said while Tesoro's expansion plans would cause increases in emissions, the increases are not significant and do not exceed the emissions' cap allowed by the  division.

"All of the refineries have limits on what they can emit," he said. "They operate well under those limits."

HollyFrontier's environmental manager Mike Astin said the addition of sophisticated equipment to boost production at the Woods Cross plant will actually bring overall emissions down.

Fine particulates such as PM2.5, volatile organic compounds and sulfur dioxide, he added, will "go down substantially." He said he hopes the permit paperwork will be submitted soon to state regulators for their review and for scrutiny by the public.

If approved, construction could begin later this year.

The state is in the process of coming up with a pollution plan to curtail PM2.5 emissions that will be have to be submitted to the EPA by the end of this year. Failure to meet those standards could result in the loss of federal transportation money the state receives.

Gray says the division, as it works through its compliance plans, is constrained to operate under the rules already on the books dealing with pollutants — and if a company meets those defined standards it is operating within the parameter of its permit.

The new pollution plan, he added, may call for additional controls once it is approved, and those requirements would be passed onto permit applicants.

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com Twitter: amyjoi16

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