North America Refining News
Planners Delay Decision On Richmond Project
by Katherine Tam Contra Costa Times, Walnut Creek, Calif.
March 24, 2008
A decision on Chevron's contentious proposal to upgrade equipment at its Richmond refinery is at least three weeks away.
After five hours of testimony before a packed house Thursday night, the Richmond Planning Commission decided at 12:20 a.m. Friday to adjourn and continue its decision-making hearing on April 10.
Commissioners felt it was too late for thoughtful deliberation of such a complex and highly technical issue.
"I, for one, do not make good determinations at this hour," Commission Chairwoman Virginia Finlay said.
Chevron is proposing to replace its hydrogen plant, power plant and reformer. The company would process the same amount of oil, but new equipment would allow it to refine a wider range of crude oil and produce 6 percent more California grade gasoline, according to the environmental impact report.
Environmental activists and state Attorney General Jerry Brown, who have called the EIR incomplete in its analysis of the crude to be refined, emissions and mitigation measures, appeared to gain some headway.
City consultant Ellen Garber said Thursday it could be argued that significant new information was added between the draft EIR and the final EIR, particularly on greenhouse gas emissions and that the document warrants recirculation for public comment. The "conservative approach" would be to do so, she said.
Project opponents concur; Chevron disagrees.
Determining whether the EIR is complete is vital because no construction
permits can be granted until the report is certified.
Chevron's proposal drew more than 300 people to Thursday's hearing, one of the larger crowds to reach the Planning Commission. The chamber began filling at least an hour before, with Chevron employees and supporters arriving in large numbers first.
Police limited the number of people inside the chamber as a fire-safety precaution.
By the time the hearing began, more than 150 people remained outside and listened to the proceedings from a tent. Some said they were not allowed to enter the building, even to use the restroom. A number of opponents outside went home after waiting hours in the cold to speak.
In their presentation, refinery representatives said their Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project would bring a safer and more efficient facility while supplying 1,200 construction jobs and 10 permanent jobs.
But the West County Toxics Coalition and Communities for a Better Environment, which gave the opposing view, contend the project opens the door to refining more contaminated crude oil that would increase emissions and lead to health problems.
Planning commissioners inquired about crude content, greenhouse gas emissions and other details, though some commissioners seemed frustrated that they did not receive some clear answers.
Nearly 150 people signed up to speak. Chevron employees -- conspicuous in white Chevron T-shirts and navy blue Renewal Project polo shirts -- vouched for the refinery's safety record and urged commissioners to evaluate the project based on facts rather than "emotion." They and other supporters said replacing 30- to 80-year-old equipment makes sense and would supply jobs.
Richard Lompa, a longtime Richmond property owner, said, "I'm tired of Chevron-bashing."
Replacing old equipment isn't the issue, opponents argued. Rather, the city needs to demand the best upgrade possible.
"This is a momentous decision; the stakes are so high," said Greg Karras, a scientist with Communities for a Better Environment.
A chemist's analysis sent Wednesday with Attorney General Brown's letter states Chevron would increase its use of heavier crude because of a global increase in the average density of these oils.
Dean O'Hair, Chevron spokesman, said the refinery won't process heavier crude because it lacks the machinery.
According to the environmental impact report, Chevron would continue to refine light to intermediate crude oil, but the sulfur content in the crude is expected to increase from 1.7 percent to up to 3 percent.
Annual emissions in three categories of air pollutants would drop. Emissions in two categories would increase to levels deemed less than significant under state guidelines after mitigation measures are taken, the report states.
These include volatile organic compounds, which the draft environmental report estimated to be nearly twice what's allowed by law. Since then, Chevron agreed to put a lid on two tanks, which is expected to cut these emissions to a level where the effect would be less than significant, according to the final environmental report.
The project would produce as much as an additional 898,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year. The environmental report outlines seven measures to mitigate the increase.
Reach Katherine Tam at 510-262-2787 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chevron's Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project must get permits from three agencies to move forward:
--The city of Richmond, the lead agency, issued the final environmental impact report in January. The Planning Commission must decide if the report is complete, and if the project should be built. Commissioners held a public hearing for five hours Thursday and will resume April 10 with rebuttals from Chevron and Communities for a Better Environment, which represents the opposition. Deliberations will follow. No additional public testimony will be taken. The commission's decision can be appealed to the City Council within 10 days.
--The Bay Area Air Quality Management District will consider an air-quality permit if the city approves the project.
--The California Energy Commission will consider a permit request for the power plant replacement component of the project. The commission suspended its consideration in October at Chevron's request. The oil company plans to resume proceedings after Richmond officials determine whether to approve the project.
Copyright (c) 2008, Contra Costa Times, Walnut Creek, Calif. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.