Category Archives: Refinery shutdowns

Global Warming Study: We need early shutdowns (premature retirements) of fossil fuel plants

Early Fossil Plant Shutdowns Will Be Needed to Hit 1.5°C Average Warming Target

By Chris Mooney, The Energy Mix, July 14, 2019 [Full Story: Washington Post]
Photo: Koshy Koshy/Wikipedia

The world already has enough fossil fuel plants and high-emitting industrial facilities, buildings, and cars to drive average global warming above a 1.5°C threshold, according to an article earlier this month in the journal Nature.

“1.5°C carbon budgets allow for no new emitting infrastructure and require substantial changes to the lifetime or operation of already existing energy infrastructure,” write a team of researchers led by Dan Tong of the University of California Irvine.

The study concludes that existing fossil infrastructure “merely needs to continue operating over the course of its expected lifetime, and the world will emit over 650 billion tons of carbon dioxide, more than enough to dash chances of limiting the Earth’s warming to a rise of 1.5°C (or 2.7°F). That’s a level of warming that has become increasingly accepted as a scientific line-in-the-sand,” the Washington Post reports.

“And it gets worse: Proposals and plans are currently afoot for additional coal plants and other infrastructure that would add another nearly 200 billion tons of emissions to that total. Some of these are now actually under construction. In other words, human societies would need not only to cancel all such pending projects but also timeout existing projects early, in order to bring emissions down adequately.”

The Post points to the 41 gigatons of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere each year, 36 of them from fossil fuel burning and cement production, and compares those totals to the 420- to 580-gigaton carbon budget remaining to produce a 50 to 66% chance of limiting average warming to 1.5°C.

“That amounts to between 10 and 14 years at current emissions, with one year, 2018, already used up and another, 2019, halfway gone,” writes climate specialist Chris Mooney. “What the new study is saying is that existing infrastructure translates into about 16 years of current emissions just on its own, with another roughly five years in the pipeline in the form of currently planned infrastructure.”

While other research on fossil infrastructure has presented a less dire verdict, Mooney adds, “the new study contends that it contains the latest, and most plausible, estimates. Its figures for existing fossil fuel infrastructure are for 2018.”

Study co-author Ken Caldeira of Stanford University’s Carnegie Institution for Science was involved in a similar study a decade ago, and found that existing infrastructure equated to only 1.2°C average warming.

“A decade ago, we found, there’s not enough infrastructure, and now, over the past decade, we have built enough stuff,” he told the Post. “And a lot of that stuff that was built, was built in Asia—the rise of China, and to a lesser extent India and the other southeast Asian countries, [is] the biggest change in direction regarding amount of infrastructure.”

Part of the problem is that those new plants are “younger”, the Post notes, meaning a longer expected operating life before they’re shut down. “And the picture is actually worse than the study suggests, because the research does not include emissions caused by human-led deforestation of tropical forests and other landscapes.”

Elmar Kriegler of Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said the new article “shows the huge role that the buildup of coal-fired power plants and heavy industry in China has played over the past 15 years,” driving recent increases in global CO2 emissions and accounting for half of the future emissions associated with new infrastructure. “If this buildup of coal infrastructure is going to repeat itself in other rapidly growing economies, notably India and South East Asia, the world will stand no chance to hold warming to well below 2.0°C.”

At the same time, “whether it is already too late for limiting warming to 1.5°C, as the authors claim in their headline, is too early to say,” Kriegler continued. “As the article points out, this will depend on whether the world can prematurely retire some of the heavy polluting infrastructure that has been put in place.”

The Post notes that some of those early retirements are already taking place, as solar and wind undercut coal and other forms of fossil fuel generation on price. The article also holds out hope for carbon capture technology to remove CO2 from existing fossil infrastructure.

“To me, the optimistic take on it is that most of the emissions associated with the higher warming scenarios come from infrastructure that’s yet to be built,” Caldeira said. “So avoiding those outcomes is still within our control, and it’s largely a political and social decision.”

But he cautioned: “I’m just hoping that nobody will be writing a decade in the future, ‘Oh, we built enough infrastructure to go through 2.0°C, but we can still avoid 2.5.’

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    Valero Says It Faces $342,000 in Penalties Over Benicia Refinery Pollution Incident

    By Ted Goldberg, May 14, 2019
    KQED NEWS – California Report
    The Valero refinery in Benicia. (Craig Miller/KQED)

    Valero says it’s facing $342,000 or more in fines from county and regional agencies after a major air pollution incident earlier this year at its Benicia refinery.

    In a filing last week with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, the company says it expects to face $242,840 in proposed penalties from the Solano County Department of Resource Management and at least another $100,000 in fines to settle a dozen notices of violation from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

    The reported penalty amount is about 1/100th of 1% of the San Antonio, Texas-based company’s reported adjusted net profit for 2018 — $3.2 billion.

    “While it is not possible to predict the outcome of the following environmental proceedings, if any one or more of them were decided against us, we believe that there would be no material effect on our financial position, results of operators, or liquidity,” the company said in its filing.

    The SEC document also reported a much larger penalty, $1.3 million, that Valero believes it faces in connection with an incident in the Texas city of Corpus Christi, where contaminated backflow from a company asphalt plant contaminated the area’s water supply for several days.

    A local environmentalist who has followed the Benicia refinery’s recent problems said the penalties barely amount to a drop in the bucket.

    “These fines don’t mean much to a giant oil company worth tens of billions of dollars,” said Hollin Kretzmann, an Oakland-based lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity.

    “It’s likely only a matter of time before we see another incident, so the communities near these dangerous refineries deserve better protection from toxic air pollution,” Kretzmann said.

    Lillian Riojas, a Valero spokeswoman, said the company would not comment beyond its public filing.

    Ralph Borrmann, a spokesman for the BAAQMD, emphasized that the Valero fines were not settled yet.

    The district tends to spend several years negotiating settlements with local refineries, bringing together a handful of violations into a package long after they are the subject of media coverage.

    For instance, the district announced in March that Shell had agreed to pay $165,000 to settle violations at its Martinez refinery that took place in 2015 and 2016.

    Solano County’s investigation into Valero’s most recent incident is ongoing, according to Terry Schmidtbauer, the county’s assistant director of resource management, who emphasized that the agency has yet to produce or negotiate any final violations in connection with Valero’s March releases.

    But Schmidtbauer said it was typical for his department to discuss tentative findings and potential penalties with companies it’s investigating, talks he said would be preliminary.

    Two refinery components — a processing unit called a fluid coker, which heats up and “cracks” the thickest and heaviest components of crude oil, and a flue gas scrubber, which is supposed to remove fine particles before they’re released from the facility’s smokestacks — are under scrutiny in Solano County’s probe.

    They began malfunctioning on March 11, resulting in the release of sooty smoke from the refinery. The releases intensified two weeks later when the facility belched out a large amount of black soot, leading to elevated levels of particulate matter.

    The smoke prompted county officials to issue a health advisory for those with respiratory problems. Refinery managers shut down the facility.

    Valero’s SEC filing came as the Benicia refinery began a gradual process of restarting after being off line for more than 40 days.

    The resumption of operations at the facility coincided with a slow and very small drop in gas prices, after two months of increases. On March 24, the day Valero shutdown, the average cost of a gallon of unleaded gasoline in California was $3.49, according to AAA.

    On May 7, as the Benicia refinery gradually got back on-line, the the average price was $4.10. On Tuesday, it had dipped slightly to $4.07

    Energy experts have said Valero’s shutdown coupled with other refinery problems in California and the high cost of crude oil globally led to the state’s recent gas price hikes, which are currently the subject of a state Energy Commission investigation.

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      KQED: Valero Benicia one of three Cal oil refineries shut down – gas prices up, Chevron flaring

      Repost from KQED California Report

      Valero Could Restart Troubled Benicia Refinery by Mid-May

      By Ted Goldberg, Apr 15, 2019
      The Valero refinery in Benicia. (Craig Miller/KQED)

      Valero’s Benicia refinery, shut down since last month because of equipment malfunctions, could be back online by mid-May, Benicia city officials and state regulators say.

      Although the company won’t provide a date that it plans to restart the Solano County facility, Benicia Fire Chief Josh Chadwick said Monday he estimates the refinery will be back online in the next three to four weeks.

      Chadwick said a Solano County hazardous materials specialist assigned to Valero provided him with the estimated timetable. County officials did make the specialist available for comment.

      The California Energy Commission said Monday that the Benicia refinery is one of three California crude oil processing facilities that the agency expects to be restarted over the next several weeks. Shutdowns at the refineries — including two in the Los Angeles area — have helped drive up the cost of gasoline statewide.

      Valero powered down its Benicia facility on March 24 after failing to resolve malfunctions that led to the release of soot-laden smoke.

      The incident prompted Solano County to issue a health advisory for people with respiratory issues to stay indoors.

      A Valero representative said the company will not disclose its restart date.

      “I know we shared information about the status of the refinery on March 24, but beyond that, it is Valero’s policy to not comment on operations or possible outages/restarts at its facilities beyond what is publicly reported,” said Lillian Riojas, a company spokeswoman.

      The California Energy Commission has been in touch with Valero but does not release certain data about its operations due to regulatory restrictions, according to agency spokeswoman Sandy Louey.

      But Louey said refinery issues that have played a part in recent gas price increases — including the Valero shutdown — would be coming to an end in the coming weeks.

      “The Energy Commission can say that the three large refinery maintenance issues are scheduled to be resolved over a period beginning late April through the middle of May,” she said in an email.

      Besides Valero, the facilities involve two in the Los Angeles suburb of Carson: a Phillips 66 refinery that suffered a fire and a Marathon Oil refinery that’s been down for planned maintenance.

      The statewide average cost of a gallon of regular has increased 62 cents since Valero’s March 24 shutdown, according to AAA. It now stands at $4.006.

      “We’ve had major refinery issues all spring,” said AAA Northern California spokesman Michael Blasky.  “I’ve heard it referred to as a perfect storm in the industry, with a lot of refinery incidents of flaring or shutting down for days or weeks at time.”

      In fact, Chevron’s Richmond refinery experienced its seventh flaring incident of the year on Saturday, according to Contra Costa County’s chief environmental and hazardous materials officer, Randy Sawyer.  The incident caught the attention of the Oil Price Information Service.

      Monday’s price marks the first time the statewide average cost for a gallon of regular has topped $4 in close to five years, Blasky said.

      He said that while other factors have played a part in the rise — for instance, an increase in the price of crude oil worldwide — the refinery issues have been a major contributing factor.

      “I would hope, as refineries come back to their normal levels of production, that we start to see prices level out and hopefully start to come down by mid-May,” Blasky said.

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