Group sues to halt California refinery revamp

A California-based environmental group has filed a lawsuit requesting a state superior court to revoke a permit that would allow Chevron Corp. to proceed with its long-delayed plan for a $1 billion modernization project at the 257,000-b/d Richmond, Calif., refinery.

Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) lodged the suit on June 5 against the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), the public agency responsible for regulating stationary sources of air pollution in the nine counties that surround San Francisco Bay.

The suit alleges that BAAQMD engaged in “flagrant disregard” of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when it initially granted and subsequently renewed an air permit to Chevron for construction of the Richmond project before a final environmental impact report (EIR) was made available for a public review and commentary period, according to CBE’s filing in San Francisco Superior Court.

While the city of Richmond released a long-awaited revised draft EIR for the refinery modernization earlier this year showing substantive differences from a previous 2008 EIR for the project (OGJ Online, Mar. 19, 2014), BAAQMD has yet to consider these differences or, more importantly, consider a final EIR as required by CEQA, the petition said.

CBE also contends that the Richmond modernization project—which would increase greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 1 million tonnes/year—has yet to be reviewed under the heightened scrutiny of federal laws governing air permitting since BAAQMD last renewed the permit in 2012 (OGJ Online, July 3, 2012).

In addition to its request that the air permit be invalidated, CBE also has asked the court to direct BAAQMD to refrain from granting Chevron any further approvals to advance the Richmond modernization project until the company has fully complied with all applicable requirements under both state and federal law.

Chevron’s attempts to modernize the Richmond refinery date back to nearly a decade, when in 2005, the company proposed a hydrogen and energy renewal project (HRP) at the plant (OGJ Online, Oct. 26, 2006).

In 2008, the city of Richmond approved the HRP as well as certified the HRP EIR, which California courts ordered to be set aside in 2010 based on a determination that it obscured the project’s objective of refining a heavier crude oil feedstock and failed to adequately analyze GHG emissions, according to information from both Chevron’s project web site and CBE’s petition.

In 2011, Chevron submitted an application to the city of Richmond for its revised modernization project, which reduces the overall scope of the 2008 project, Chevron said.

The current project—which will replace some of the refinery’s oldest processing equipment with safer modern technology meeting some of the toughest air quality standards in the US—will not change the basic operation or capacity of the refinery (OGJ Online, Mar. 19, 2014).

The project, however, will give the refinery flexibility to process crude oil blends and gas oils containing higher levels of sulfur while meeting strict environmental regulations with the installation throughout the plant of flanges, valves, vessels, and other components meeting local and federal air pollution standards, the company said.

“The modernization project is not about refining Canadian tar sands or heavy crude, and it will not allow the refinery to receive crude oil by rail or pipeline,” Chevron said in March (OGJ Online, Mar. 19, 2014).

Contact Robert Brelsford at rbrelsford@ogjonline.com.

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