Utah groups move to block Holly refinery expansion
Air quality • Critics say state grossly underestimates emissions from Holly.
Published: December 27, 2013 07:59AM
Updated: December 27, 2013 10:37PM

Already burdened with unhealthy levels of air pollution, Wasatch Front residents should not have to tolerate additional industrial insults to their airshed that could further erode public well-being, according to environmental groups seeking to block expansion of a West Bountiful oil refinery.

The groups — including Utah Physicians for Healthy Environment and Friends of Great Salt Lake — say the Utah Division of Air Quality has underestimated Holly Refining and Marketing Co.’s future emissions under a permit the agency issued last month allowing the plant to double its capacity.

Their latest move, a request for a stay, follows an appeal they filed earlier asking the state to reconsider the permit.

“Air pollution, including the proposed emissions from the expansion project, is causing permanent, irreversible and systemic harm to the citizens of Utah, particularly the state’s children, elderly and individuals with asthma, heart disease and similar, increased susceptibilities to air pollution,” Joro Walker, a lawyer with Western Resource Advocates, wrote in a petition filed Dec. 20 with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.

Walker’s nonprofit, which represents the groups, contends state regulators cited unproven formulas to predict emissions at an expanded plant. She argues this novel emissions factor predicts pollutant volumes 15 times lower than the standard factor, thereby allowing the project to avoid a more thorough review.

Holly would be among the largest of five refineries huddled along the line between Davis and Salt Lake counties should its capacity jump to 60,000 barrels per day.

While state officials say the Holly project would reduce its emissions of some pollutants, such as sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxides, the groups accuse the air-quality regulators of “unequivocal abandonment” of their mission to protect public health.

“Our DAQ is allowing big oil to exploit Utah residents,” said Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for Healthy Environment. “Expanding the refineries makes a mockery of the state’s supposed plan to clean up our air.”

Levels of fine-particulate pollution, known as PM2.5, in the Salt Lake Valley too often exceed federal standards, even though monitoring data indicate the foul air has improved during the past 20 years. Still, this pollution is not only hard on the lungs, but it also inflames arteries and is implicated in cancer, autism and other maladies.

Holly and other area refineries plan to expand and adjust their processes to handle an influx of black and yellow “waxy” crude coming by truck out of eastern Utah’s Uinta Basin. Environmentalists fear these expansions could exacerbate the particulate problem, and Moench’s group is already appealing the state’s approval of one underway at the Tesoro refinery.

Moench is highly critical of DAQ’s failure to account for emissions from increased oil tanker traffic arising from the expansions.

The Holly expansion’s first phase would upgrade pollution controls on existing equipment and install a second fluid catalytic cracking unit, which would be dismantled and moved from New Mexico. When up and running, the new unit would add 45 permanent jobs to Holly’s workforce of 200, according to Holly’s environmental manager, Mike Astin. The plant would also replace gas-fired compressors with others powered by electricity.

Holly officials could not be reached Thursday, but last month Astin said company officials believe “it’s a win-win because we will be bringing in more jobs and more business and doing things to improve our air quality. The community is a concern for us. We are going beyond environmental regulations.”

The new permit predicts substantial reductions in emissions of precursor gases for particulate matter, but it does anticipate small increases of direct particulate emissions, as well as of carbon monoxide and hazardous air pollutants.

bmaffly@sltrib.com