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WOODS CROSS — An attorney representing clean air advocates said she will appeal Monday's decision by the Utah Division of Air Quality allowing the HollyFrontier Corp. refinery to increase its daily processing of crude oil by 20,000 barrels a day.
"Not only do we need to keep our PM2.5 from increasing, we need to decrease emissions and decrease them substantially," said Joro Walker, an attorney with Western Resource Advocates. "So to allow a facility in the situation we are in to increase direct emissions of the very pollutant that is the problem in the valley in the winter … you have to appeal."
Holly refinery sought a permit modification from state regulators to switch from processing heavier crude with a higher sulfur content to crude oil from eastern Utah that is the black or yellow wax crude. The local production has a lower sulfur content, which requires new equipment to process the different kind of oil. It also will boost production at the refinery from 40,000 barrels per day to 60,000 barrels per day.
The modification allows PM2.5 to increase by just less than 7 tons a year, but it results in reductions in sulfur dioxide of nearly 151 tons per year and nitrous oxide decreases of 21.5 tons per year.
Mike Astin, the refinery's environmental manager, said the company also will replace four natural gas-fired compressor engines with electric motors to further reduce emissions. It also will divert emissions from a sulfur recovery unit to a wet gas scrubber, Astin said.
The jump in production, however, will result in more than 100 tanker trucks making a stop at the refinery each day, traffic that isn't counted as part of the refinery's emissions and has sparked criticism from clean air advocates.
Truck speeds at the refinery will be kept to 15 mph, according to the permit, and the paved roadway needs to be watered on a routine basis to reduce road pollution such as dust.
We can't dilly-dally here because people's lives are on the line.
–Joro Walker, an attorney with Western Resource Advocates
Astin said Holly's parent company is participating in a study with a major producer in the Uintah Basin to determine the feasibility of building a heated pipeline to transport the crude and eliminate the need for the increase in tanker truck traffic. There also have been discussions of transporting the thick, waxy crude by rail, but that creates its own logistical problems, he said.
Critics of the expansion believe the refinery is being allowed to vastly underestimate its emissions by relying on the Environmental Protection Agency's National Emissions Inventory, a national database of emissions compiled and updated from all 50 states every three years.
"It is inconsistent with what has been done before, and it underestimates the amount of (PM2.5) the facility is going to actually emit," Walker said.
Bryce Bird, director of the state Division of Air Quality, said the refinery's choice to rely on the national emissions inventory will result in HollyFrontier using a lower emissions rate that is an enforceable component of the company's permit.
In addition, the permit modification sets an overall cap on the various emissions from the refinery, decreasing emissions by 1,000 tons a year, Bird said.
"That is one of the most signficant results of this," he said.
But Walker said it is plainly wrong for the division to approve a permit that calls for any kind of increase in direct emissions, given the Wasatch Front's persistent struggle with wintertime pollution each year.
"These emission increases really start to pile up. This is about Holly, but it is also about Kennecott and others and how we are going to attain the (federal) standard as soon as possible," Walker said. "We can't dilly-dally here because people's lives are on the line."
Walker represents Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, which is also seeking to stop the planned expansion of the Tesoro refinery. That appeal is pending.