Study: Chevron refinery plan won’t boost pollution

Chevron Corp.’s plan to upgrade its aging Richmond refinery won’t add to air pollution if the oil company follows all its proposed steps, according to a draft environmental report released Tuesday by the city.

The report indicates that Chevron should be able to fulfill its pledge that the $1 billion project will result in no net increase in pollution, including greenhouse gas emissions. The company, based in San Ramon, welcomed the news.

“The draft (report) shows that this is an excellent project that will create a newer, safer, cleaner refinery that is better for the community,” said Kory Judd, the refinery’s general manager, in a prepared statement.

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The project’s opponents promised to scour the 1,152-page report carefully. But Andres Soto with Communities for a Better Environment said the refinery needs to cut its pollution levels, not maintain them.

“If this project doesn’t get us there, and it just keeps things at the status quo, that’s unacceptable, because the status quo is killing us,” Soto said.

Chevron has been trying to upgrade the refinery since 2005. But the project quickly became a flashpoint in the strained relationship between the refinery and its neighbors. Richmond residents have long complained about pollution from the plant, while city officials have repeatedly sparred with the company over taxes. An August, 2012 fire that knocked out part of the refinery, cast a thick plume of heavy smoke over the East Bay and sent thousands of people to local hospitals complaining of breathing problems didn’t help.

Richmond officials approved one version of the refinery project in 2008, and Chevron quickly began work on the upgrades. But the following year, a judge threw out the project’s original environmental impact report, saying it didn’t answer key questions about whether the improvements would let Chevron process heavier grades of crude oil and add to local air pollution.

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In response, Chevron scaled back the project, dropping elements that would have allowed the refinery to produce more California-grade gasoline.

Should it win city approval, the revamped project will not enable the refinery to process heavier crudes, said Chevron spokeswoman Nicole Barber. But the refinery will be able to process crudes with a higher sulfur content than it currently handles. The facility will add equipment to strip sulfur from the refinery’s exhaust to keep emissions from rising.

Chevron will also replace many of the refinery’s pipes with newer ones less prone to sulfur-related corrosion. The 2012 fire started with a hydrocarbon leak from a badly corroded pipe that had lost 90 percent of its original thickness.

Members of the public can submit comments on the draft environmental impact report to Richmond’s planning department through May 2. The city’s planning commission has scheduled an April 17 meeting to hear public comments on the report.