GRANT COOKE: Questions about Valero’s operating capacity

Repost from the Benicia Herald (letters are not available in the online edition)

Valero raises further questions

By Grant Cooke, August 10, 2016

Regarding the recent letter by Valero’s environmental manager, Kimberly Ronan. The letter writer complains that there were inaccuracies in a previous letter written by Kathy Kerridge that pointed out that data from BAAQMD indicated that Valero was refining about 65% of its capacity. This clearly begs lots of questions that one would like to ask the refinery.

The Valero’s manager’s response, unfortunately, shied no light on BAAQMD’s reported data. The response was basically, “Kerridge’s analysis may not be right, but we’re not telling what it is” There was also a vague suggestion that BAAQMD’s charts were confusing. Is this really the refinery’s response? (I have a hard time believing that the refinery’s GM and/or corporate communications people didn’t write or review the letter before it went out).

At a time when Valero’s crude-by-rail project has created such animosity, and confusion, the refinery is going to step away from a clear explanation of such a simple question? This sort of misinformation, secrecy, and silliness is just what gets oil companies and other big corporations in deep trouble. Not being clear and straightforward with capacity information has been an issue with California’s refineries for years, and it leads to all sorts of rumors and investigations into maintenance shutdowns and production reductions verse the price of gas and a host of other questions.

Recently, in Valero’s earnings report, which noted that Valero, Inc. made $19.6 billion in Q2 and $87.8 billion last year, Joe Gorder, Valero’s CEO, said “We are also encouraged by ample supplies of medium and heavy sour crude oils in the market…” So, if there is plenty of supply, and Benicia’s refinery isn’t producing at full capacity because the market doesn’t need anymore gas, why the heck is it pushing for a crude-by-rail project that is clearly not in the town’s interests?

On another note, it is not particularly comforting to know that the refinery monitors 265,000 individual valves and components, or that it has a long period of without recordable injury. Those of us who know a bit about mechanical engineering, know that it is not a question of if, but when, a mechanical part will fail, particularly, when you’re dealing with volatile substances. Since Bakkan crude is extremely volatile, knowing that the refinery wants to run that stuff through that many valves and components just makes me shiver.

Grant Cooke, Benicia
Sustainable Energy Associates
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