BY MELINDA WILLIAMS
Clipper Staff Writer
BOUNTIFUL — The state Division of Air Quality has approved a permit allowing Tesoro Refinery to expand, but a group of environmentalists is planning to file an appeal.
The permit will allow the refinery to construct and operate a black wax and a yellow wax crude-processing plant at the company’s existing refinery in Salt Lake City.
Members of two environmental groups say the permit will allow an increase of up to 60 percent for nitrogen oxide, 78 percent for sulphur dioxide, 300 percent for volatile organic compounds and up to a 500 percent increase of carbon monoxide over current emissions, according to Brian Moench, of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.
The permit was approved on Sept. 13 and UPHE, with support from the Davis County Community Coalition, has 30 days to file its appeal.
The physicians’ group is based in Salt Lake City but has several active Davis County members.
Tesoro is the first refinery to submit a proposal to the Utah DAQ in this round of expansions, but Holly Refinery is also planning an expansion.
“In general, it’s a bad idea to allow big polluters to operate in a confined valley, close to residential areas,” said Dr. Ray Ward, a Bountiful physician and member of UPHE. He added that with mountains on three sides and homes close by, the area is a “uniquely bad place” to have large polluters.
Speaking of health hazards, Ward said that 20 percent of the emissions along the Wasatch Front come from the refineries. That means each of the five refineries emits 4 percent of pollutants. As a physician, he can’t tell a patient that their poor health has been caused by the refineries, but the pollutants contribute to conditions such as heart attacks and asthma, “and I can say these conditions go up when pollution increases,” he said.
The project will involve expanded crude unloading facilities and storage tanks, upgrades in pumps and heat exchangers and upgrades at the crude unit, a new fluid catalytic cracking unit, a new vapor recovery unit and a distillate desulfurization unit. It will mean a 7 percent increase in refining capacity.
Tina Barbee, a Tesoro spokesperson, said the $180 million project includes $16.5 million dedicated to advanced emissions control equipment.
“Tesoro is pleased with the state’s decision to grant the Salt Lake Crude Processing Project the necessary permits to complete construction, which will enable us to make use of locally produced crude oils and bring more clean fuels to local communities,” she said in an e-mail.
The DAQ staff conducted a thorough and independent review of the application, she said.
Martin Gray, new source review permitting manager at the DAQ, told the Clipper the agency approved Tesoro’s permit because “they met the regulations.”
DAQ looks at whether the application is within attainment perimeters, he said.
“Tesoro will be decreasing some of the sulphur-related pollutants. Some of the others, NOx (nitrogen oxide) and carbon monoxide will be increasing. In the words of our director Bryce Bird, ‘it’s a wash,’” he said, adding that most residents won’t notice the difference in air quality.
Barbee said the expansion will mean more than a 1 percent annual reduction in sulphur dioxide coming from the refinery, less than a 1 percent annual increase in criteria pollutants in Salt Lake County and no increase above the refinery’s permitted emission caps.
“Tesoro has historically operated far under the maximum permit caps and will continue to operate far below those caps,” Barbee said.
Cecilee Price-Huish, president of Davis County Community Coalition, said the increased allowable emissions figures do not take into account additional emissions from the hundreds of extra diesel trucks that travel on I-15 through Davis County.
She also worries about the message the permit approval sends.
“Tesoro is setting the precedent for the other local refineries to follow. Holly Refinery, which is much closer to residential areas, is next in line,” she said.
“Unfortunately, these refinery pollutants do not just sit over the tops of the refineries, but rather they disperse over large areas,” she said.
“And that puts many people at greater risk of pollution-related illnesses, including asthma, cardiopulmonary conditions and cancer.”
Moench said the legal costs of the appeal is estimated at $20,000. UPHE has committed to raising $10,000 towards the appeal, he said. The group is asking for donations to raise the remaining $10,000. Donate at UPHE, 795 18th Ave., Salt Lake City, Utah firstname.lastname@example.org