Activists warn refinery expansion will harm air quality

Friday , March 23, 2012 - 2:03 PM

Antone Clark

BOUNTIFUL — Local activists warn that there is more bad air on the horizon for Davis County residents, if area refineries are granted the necessary permits to expand their operations.

Cecilee Price-Huish, a spokesperson for the Davis County Community Coalition, claims a plan by HollyFrontier Corporation to expand its refinery operation in Woods Cross, spells more trouble for local air quality. She also cited permit requests by Tesoro and Chevron in nearby Salt Lake County, as another concern.

Price-Huish and DCCC members held a forum Thursday night at Bountiful City Hall, to outline their fears and to rally residents around clean air initiatives.

“There is no safe amount of air pollution,” Dr. Kim Seizman, a cardiologist, told the nearly full house in the council chambers.

She was one of a group of physicians who addressed local air quality. She noted the American Lung Association has given Utah an F for air quality.

Price-Huish stressed that refineries are not the only villains in the pursuit of clean air, but she said much of the drive behind the group has been a push by area refineries to expand their operations.

“Many of us know people who have been physically sickened by our poor air quality. We want to know that our neighboring industrial polluters are not going to add to their existing emissions, or claim that maintaining the status quo is OK,” Price-Huish said.

She and others demand local refineries do a better job of cleaning up their existing operations and lower emissions, before they expand.

Holly is one of five refineries in south Davis County and north Salt Lake County, in an area dubbed by one city official as “refinery alley.”

HollyFrontier Corporation announced plans in January to expand capacity at its Woods Cross refinery from 31,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 45,000 by late 2014. That expansion is subject to getting the necessary permit at the state level.

Holly officials also outlined plans to relocate some existing refinery products and services from a Bloomfield, N.M., plant to Davis County. HollyFrontier is reportedly putting a $225 million investment into the project, and expects the payback period to be less than two years, the release said.

The plans include more than just the purchase of the New Mexico refinery.

Mike Jennings, president of HollyFrontier, said HFC has also signed a 10-year agreement with Newfield Exploration Company to supply black and yellow wax crude oil produced in the Uinta Basin to the Woods Cross refinery. The local refinery currently has the capacity to produce 10,000 bpd of these crude oils, but the expansion plan will improve that capacity to 24,000 bpd, according to Jennings.

All of Holly’s expansion plans are subject to getting the necessary approval from the Utah State Division of Air Quality. The company has indicated they want to seek a permit modification for the Woods Cross facility but has not submitted anything yet, according to Marty Gray, new source permit manager for the DEQ.

Gray said once the company files a request then the process can take anywhere from 90 to 180 days, with a 30-day public comment period required for each permit. Gray said a public hearing can also be part of the process, if someone requests it.

In the meantime, Price-Huish and other residents are trying to be better organized and to expand their fight to clean up the air. She said air quality is not political.

The issue of air quality goes beyond the current permit status of area refineries, according to Tim Wagoner, of the Sierra Club. Wagoner gave a presentation on oil shale and tar sands and suggested any move to tap into those natural resources in the Beehive State, would have a local impact.

“This is where they’ll come,” Wagoner said of the potential refining process.

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