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SALT LAKE CITY — Cleaner fuel — signficantly cleaner — is coming to many Utah gas stations along the Wasatch Front, which will help reduce pollutants in motor vehicle emissions.
In a briefing Wednesday before a committee of lawmakers, air quality officials said the impacts of the so-called Tier 3 fuel will be welcome in an area where the majority of air pollution comes from the tailpipe.
Glade Sowards, a policy analyst with the Utah Division of Air Quality, said Andeavor (formerly Tesoro) and Chevron are making the move to the lower sulfur fuel by a federal deadline of Jan. 1, 2020. Silver Eagle Refinery is already producing Tier 3 gasoline.
Smaller refineries were given an extended deadline, and some in this area could have taken advantage of an averaging system or credits to avoid producing the fuel at certain facilities.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert worked with local refineries to push for a commitment to produce the cleaner fuel specifically in the Utah market. Lawmakers also endorsed incentives to help the transition.
The Wasatch Front periodically has some of the worst air pollution levels in the country when temperature inversions trap harmful fine particulate matter in the valleys. The increased pollution levels cause respiratory problems, especially for vulnerable populations like children and the elderly, and are also linked to increase risk of heart attacks or strokes.
Over the years, the public, political leaders and regulators have pushed for and adopted a number of changes to reign in the Wasatch Front's emissions inventory, but it is a continuing struggle.
On Wednesday, Sowards told members of the Public Utilities, Energy and Technology Committee the new federal fuel standards will make a marked dent in motor vehicle emissions as fleets age out and vehicles with improved emissions control technology hit the streets.
Under Tier 2 standards, sulfur content was dropped from 300 parts per million to 30 parts per million. Tier 3 drops that even lower to 10 parts per million.
The impacts of that reduction will be significant, he said.
As an example, 19 percent of the light duty vehicle fleet on the roads today are considered Tier 1 or older, but they contribute 61 percent of the pollution.
When Tier 3 vehicles are the dominant fleet of vehicle on the road, it will be the equivalent of taking 1 out of every 5 cars off the streets, Herbert and others have said.
His presentation showed that between 2014 and 2024, emissions from all mobile sources will have dropped from 120 tons per day to 58 tons per day during the winter.
Brad Shafer, senior manager of government and public relations for Andeavor, told lawmakers the conversion at the refinery involves expansion of equipment called a hydrotreater.
The company expects the foundational work for that expansion to be completed by the end of this year and actual construction to begin in early 2019. Sometime in the final month of next year, the refinery will be delivering the improved fuel to Utah gas stations.
When asked by one lawmaker about the financial investment behind the change, he replied, "It's not cheap."
Tyler Kruzich, manager of policy, government and public affairs for Chevron, said the foundational work has already began at the refinery for the new equipment.
He said Chevron has developed a proprietary reactor to extract sulfur from the petroleum product.
The Tier 3 fuel from Chevron will be hitting the market by the Jan. 1, 2020 deadline.
Correction: An earlier version named River Eagle Refinery in connection with lower sulfur fuels. It should have read Silver Eagle Refinery. The story also said emissions would drop from 120 tons per vehicle per day to 58 tons per vehicle per day when it should have said all mobile source emissions.