20 By 2020: A Pledge To Reduce Bay Area Refinery Pollution

Repost from SWITCHBOARD, Natural Resources Defense Council Staff Blog

20 By 2020: A Pledge To Reduce Refinery Pollution

By Diane Bailey, October 9, 2014

Diane Bailey

The Bay Area Air District has been working for the past two years to craft regulations that track and limit refinery pollution as oil companies begin bringing in extreme new types of crude oil that put workers and refinery fenceline communities at risk.  Facing much more pollution from refining extreme crude oil, like tar sands and Bakken crude, and in the aftermath of the massive August 2012 fire at Chevron Richmond, a number of community and environmental advocates got together with refinery workers at the start of the rulemaking effort.  (below, the Chevron refinery and tanks loom large over North Richmond; Photo Credit: Environmental Health News)

Chevron richmond homes.jpgWe came up with the Worker-Community Approach to not only ensure that pollution would not increase from refineries but to track crude oil used and achieve continual progress on air quality by reducing 20 percent of refinery pollution by 2020.

Our challenge to the Bay Area Air District and to all Chevron tankfarm homes.jpgfive oil companies with refineries in the region is that given the tremendous amounts of pollution pumped out by refineries and impacting the health of fenceline communities every day, will they work together to commit to cutting pollution by 20 percent by 2020?  Here are five things you need to know about refinery pollution in the Bay Area that help explain why Refineries in the Bay Area are much more polluting than other refineries and can easily reduce 20 percent of their toxic emissions over the next five years:

1)      According to US EPA Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Data: Bay Area refineries, on average, report more than twice the toxic chemical releases reported by Los Angeles Area refineries.

2)      According to the California Air Resources Board, emissions inventory data, Bay Area refinery emissions are estimated to decrease by 50 percent or more by 2020, making a 20 percent reduction by 2020 seem easy.  But projections are one thing; we need a reliable commitment in writing.

3)      The CARB emissions inventory data also shows that Bay Area Refineries currently emit 7 times more nitrogen oxides (NOx), 3 times more sulfur dioxide and at least a third more organic hydrocarbons (like benzene) than Southern CA refineries, yet Southern California refineries collectively have over a third more capacity.

4)      According to regional air district data, the Chevron Richmond refinery is much more polluting than its El Segundo “twin” that has the same design; Chevron Richmond emitted more than twice as much organic hydrocarbon and particulate matter (PM) and eight times more toxic benzene than the El Segundo refinery in 2012.  Going back to TRI emissions, Chevron Richmond released over 80 percent more toxic air pollution than Chevron El Segundo in 2011.

5)      According to a 2013 Statewide Audit, on a rough per gallon of gasoline basis, Bay Area Refineries are 50 percent more climate polluting, twice as polluting for organic hydrocarbons and NOx, almost 20 percent more polluting for PM and leak over three times as much benzene and almost five times as much formaldehyde relative to gasoline produced in Southern California.

Wouldn’t it be great if Bay Area refineries – Valero, Chevron, Tesoro, Phillips 66 and Shell – took the 20 by 2020 pledge?  They could use the same modern pollution controls that refineries in Southern California have installed.  This kind of commitment to clean air, is not only doable technologically, it is a smart approach to being a good neighbor and supporting community health.  The proactive Worker-community Approach to improving air quality also ensures that we won’t see an increase in pollution as oil companies bring more extreme crude oil into the region.  In fact, we would like to see refiners take a good neighbor pledge not to bring any extreme, dangerous crude oil into the Bay Area at all.  At the very least, they should pledge a 20 percent reduction of toxic pollution by 2020.  They did it in Southern California; Bay Area communities deserve no less.

THE PLEDGE:  A Worker-Community Approach to Emission ReductionsIn order to address the ongoing health hazards in refinery-impacted communities and prevent any increases in pollution caused by changing crude oil, the refinery rule should require:

1)  Each refinery is required to decrease refinery-wide emissions of pollutants that create environmental health hazards by at least 20 percent below the refinery’s baseline by 2020, showing adequate incremental progress of at least two percent each year;


2)  If these reductions aren’t possible, a refinery needs to show that they are using the best available emission control technology (BACT) throughout the refinery (i.e., eliminate “grandfathered,” “non-BACT” and “exempted” sources in the refinery).

Sources & Notes:
  1. Refinery Capacity vs. Throughput: Refinery comparisons were adjusted by capacity as reported to US EPA and to the California Energy Commission.  Although annual crude oil throughput would be a better comparison point, it is not publicly available.  Thus an imperfect assumption that most refineries utilize most of their capacity must be made in order to compare emissions.  According to CEC, Southern California has roughly 1 million BPD refining capacity and the Bay Area has roughly 700,000 BPD capacity.  “A rough per gallon” refined basis is relative to reported capacity not throughput or production.
  2. CARB emissions inventory queries were run for 2012 and the future projection year of 2020 for industrial sources, taking the sum of the Emissions Inventory Categories: 040-Petroleum Refining (Combustion) and 320-Petroleum Refineries.
  3. BAAQMD Emissions Inventory Data for each refinery was transmitted to NRDC via Public Records Request, August 28, 2014 for years 2011 through 2013.