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Observations on Chevron’s Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project

From The Richmond Globe

By Eleanor Boswell-Raine,

Globe Managing Editor

September 10, 2008

One of the hottest controversies preoccupying and blatantly dividing Richmond council members, including the mayor, along with planning commissioners, Bay Area-wide environmentalists, labor groups and everyday residents has been the conditional use permit that would allow the replacement of old Chevron equipment in parts of the Richmond refinery with what proponents call “efficient and environmental functioning ones.”

Opponents contend that Chevron’s Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project will further expose residents to pollutants and reprehensible intentions by Chevron to pipe heavy, dirty crude for processing in Richmond.  The Globe has published through its “Community Voices” feature opposing points of view from Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, Councilwoman Maria Viramontes and others.

The Globe has the following observations to put before our readership:

  • The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), the regional regulatory body for air emissions, testified at city hearings that the Chevron project improves air quality because air pollutants and particulate matter are reduced.
  • Emotions have run high at Richmond City Council meetings, with throngs of attendees weighing in on the issue. Noise levels have overwhelmed and inhibited the mayor’s ability to keep order. Most notably, Councilman Tom Butt continues a barrage of emails discrediting his five colleagues whose votes overruled his efforts to vote down the approval of the permit.
  • Despite 10 conditions in the permit that are more stringent than current California state regulatory law, and two conditions that regulate environmental performance of equipment and reduces nitrogen oxides by -104.8 tons per year, opponents insist that these controls do not have enough safeguards to ensure the safety of the environment and air quality.

According to BAAQMD, greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming are reduced to minus zero. When asked why BAAQMD had not raised their standard for regulating sulfur dioxide in their permitting process, their answer was, “The BAAQMD does not have the authority to make sulfur standards more stringent because the daily and annual sulfur dioxide emissions from the use of refinery fuel gas will not increase from existing levels by this project.”

It appears that Richmond raised the regulatory standards for sulfur when the BAAQMD could not. The new conditions with the installation of new equipment are said to reduce -22.3 tons per year of sulfur dioxide.
Apparently, the Richmond permit raised the standard of flaring events because residents were concerned by reporting events at 50,000 standard cubic feet over the state standard of 500,000 standard cubic feet, and therefore increased reporting requirements.

One doctor testified that asthma was impacted by volatile organic compounds, so the permit parameters will reduce volatile organic compounds to zero.

So what is the concern regarding crude oil? Heavier dirty crude, as some have called it, has a gravity characteristic defined by the numbers 1 to 18. The Richmond council approved a condition limit of 28, the light end of medium crude (18-28). Light crude is defined as 28+ and higher. The unit that processes crude is called a Solvent Deasphalter Unit (SDA). This unit is permitted under the federal and state Title V permit to regulate to 66,000 barrels per day. The council succeeded in reducing the capacity of this equipment to 56,000 barrels per day, with the condition and the agreement by Chevron to also reduce the federal and state Title V permit to Richmond’s requirement for lower capacity.

According to Dr. Sahu, the city of Richmond’s consultant on the project, and other experts, 56,000 barrels per day is the equivalent of the capacity to process crude at the lightest end of the medium scale — 28.

The conditional use permit denies Chevron authorization of use of a pipeline. In order for Chevron to ship crude or gas oils by pipeline, it must submit a new or amended application, along with a conditional use permit and new environmental process. The BAAQMD stated the following, “This local condition is more restrictive since it eliminates intermediate or gas oil from another facility being introduced to the SDA unit and eliminates the pipeline.”

While the controversy continues, and opponents and proponents state their cases, it’s clear that no matter where they stand, the community benefits agreement component of the permit stands to bring $61.6 million to the city, including 1,200 jobs. In an imperfect world, it appears that the council is moving forward cautiously and keeping community interests in the forefront as evidenced in its conditional use permit.

While it is clear that the issue has been highly politicized and has caused some council members to abandon decorum at council meetings, we can only hope that the high drama will fade and that honest efforts to pursue solutions that benefit Richmond’s residents will prevail.


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