Another Utah refinery says it will launch effort to make cleaner ‘Tier 3’ fuel

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) The Marathon Petroleum refinery in Salt Lake City, on Jan. 9, 2020. Marathon now produces Tier 3 fuel, that reduces the sulfur in gasoline from 30 parts per million to 10.

HollyFrontier — one of the two remaining Utah refineries that has yet to produce low-sulfur “Tier 3” gasoline — announced Thursday that it is beginning upgrades that should allow its Wood Cross refinery to produce the cleaner fuel in about six months.

“By moving to Tier 3 fuels, we are advancing our commitment to deliver high-quality fuel products in an environmentally responsible way,” said Scott White, vice president and manager at the Woods Cross refinery.

He said a $3 million first-phase project should allow delivery of the fuel to begin in about six months, but that is contingent on the availability of construction crews and supplies that could be disrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Once the initial project is complete, not all fuel produced there will be Tier 3 yet. “But 100% of the fuel that we sell here in the greater Wasatch [Front] area will be Tier 3 quality,” White said.

The move will leave Big West as the only refinery in Utah yet to produce Tier 3 fuel. However, it said earlier this year it is pursuing opportunities to offer it and still is producing low-sulfur gas — but not yet at the 10 parts per million level of Tier 3.

Utah’s three other refineries — Marathon, Chevron and Silver Eagle — have been producing Tier 3 since about the beginning of the year. Also, Sinclair Oil has said it is piping Tier 3 gasoline to Utah from two Wyoming refineries.

Federal rules require oil companies to hit Tier 3 standards on average across the country, but do not require each separate refinery to produce such fuel individually.

But Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has pushed hard for Tier 3 here, including enacting tax breaks a few years ago to help produce it and holding a series of news conferences to praise producers when they finally offer it.

Herbert’s budget this year also called for essentially a consumer gasoline revolt, urging Utahns to buy only Tier 3 gasoline to prod refineries that do not yet produce it to do so soon.

Lawmakers in the recent session passed and Herbert signed SB239, that extends the deadline for refiners to claim a sales tax break for producing cleaner fuel. The move is estimated to save the refineries some $500,000 in taxes beginning next year.

Herbert praised HollyFrontier’s announcement on Thursday, and he repeated some of his favorite reasons for promoting the low-sulfur fuel.

“The largest contributor to our air quality problem is mobile sources — vehicles,” he said in a news release. “When coupled with a Tier 3 car, the fuels that will be produced at HollyFrontier’s Woods Cross refinery will reduce these mobile emissions by up to 80%. That’s like taking four of five cars off the road.”

Even with older cars, Tier 3 reduces up to 14% of the emissions, which is like parking a car one day a week.

White, with HollyFrontier, said the company supports efforts by Herbert and legislative leaders to “improve air quality in Utah and along the Wasatch Front, in particular.”

White added, “HolyFrontier Woods Cross cares about the environment and the air quality in the community, which is also home to many of our employees and their families.”

House Speaker Brad Wilson tweeted his support for the move.

“I applaud HollyFrontier’s announced plan today to make Tier 3 fuels produced in Woods Cross, Utah, available to consumers along the Wasatch Front," he said.

Thom Carter, executive director of the Utah Clean Air Partnership, also praised HollyFrontier for its move to produce Tier 3 fuel.

“In our efforts to clean the air, there are no perfect answers, but there are practical solutions,” he said. “HollyFrontier’s move to produce Tier 3 fuel here in Utah will mean a significant reduction of emissions in our airshed.”

Tier 3 from Utah refineries is currently sold at stations including Speedway, Chevron, Shell, Texaco and Exxon.

Also, many independent stations — including such large chains as Maverik, Costco and Smiths — buy from the refineries that produce Tier 3, but also from the refineries that do not.

Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper, recently launched a website, tier3gas.org, to show where stations are that certify they sell Tier 3 fuel.