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Big Refinery Settlement Sets Strong National Precedent
ConocoPhillips Agreement Limits Air Pollution and Adds Green Infrastructure for Communities Near the Illinois Refinery
CHICAGO (September 11, 2008) – The Metro East area of Illinois is known for heavy industry, but a landmark air permit settlement between environmental groups and ConocoPhillips will help green up the communities surrounding the Wood River Refinery in Roxana, IL and nearby St. Louis. That green comes in the form of money for infrastructure, new open space, and most importantly---cleaner air.
In June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Appeals Board sided with environmentalists and struck down an air permit granted to the refinery by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) on the ground that the pollution control requirements in the permit were insufficient. Specifically, the challenge from the American Bottom Conservancy (represented by Natural Resources Defense Council) and Sierra Club (represented by Environmental Integrity Project) argued that harmful air pollution from the refinery’s flares (the tall torch-like structures which relieve pressure in the refining process) was not being sufficiently controlled.
“ConocoPhillips saw the writing on the wall and agreed to some things that will have a truly positive impact on the region,” said Ann Alexander, senior attorney for NRDC. “This is not just a huge win for the communities in Metro East and St. Louis---it is a win for anyone living near a refinery across the country and cements what should be the national standard for refinery pollution controls.”
After the decision was announced, the petitioners worked with IEPA and ConocoPhillips to hammer out an agreement on a revised air permit as part of a settlement to the challenge. A new permit developed in those negotiations requires a variety of technical improvements to the refinery for the control of flares, reduced pollution limits, and more stringent monitoring requirements. ConocoPhillips will also pay $3.4 million to go towards various green infrastructure projects in the community. None of the funds will be paid to the petitioner organizations.
Under the agreement, ConocoPhillips will undertake the following:
Numerous Technical Improvements
The new, negotiated permit will lead to an approximately 500-ton-per-year reduction of pollutant emissions through stricter emissions limits. It also requires a “flaring minimization plan” for all of the refinery’s new flares. The plan is built around requirements pulled directly from California pollution control regulations and federal regulations that the Wood River Refinery would not have had to live up to otherwise.
A cutting-edge monitoring system will be installed to track emissions from the refinery’s “tank farms” and other units; little data is currently available regarding emissions from these sources. Data will be available to the public and will help both the oil industry and environmental communities better understand this and other refinery emissions.
Beyond the pollutants eliminated by the new permit, the new monitoring regime will significantly reduce emissions from general flaring. Additionally, the monitoring will help to eliminate emissions of chemicals that produce smog and aggravate asthma throughout the region.
Full Energy Audit/Greenhouse Emissions Inventory
ConocoPhillips will conduct a facility-wide energy use assessment audit in order to identify energy efficiency improvement opportunities, and, based on the assessment results and other data, to implement energy reduction projects designed to achieve at least a six percent reduction in the refinery's current fuel gas usage at the existing portion of the refinery. The audit will also create baseline numbers that could be used to help the public and regulators track CO2 emissions in the future.
ConocoPhillips will pay $3.4 million to be used to green the community through school energy efficiency programs (upgrades to lights, HVAC, windows, etc.), fund a Cool Cities initiative to help cities that are trying to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions (such as through purchase of hybrid police cars), support conservation of open space to act as a carbon sink, and a clean school bus program.
As part of the settlement, the petitioners agreed not to challenge the new, more stringent air pollution permit. The settlement and new permit will go into effect immediately.
While the permit challenge on which the community organizations prevailed addressed the pollution emitted by this facility in the refining process, its resolution does not alleviate broader concerns about the refinery’s water and CO2 emissions, as well as the use of Canada’s tar sands to produce oil. The groups will continue in appropriate venues to encourage use of cleaner fuels rather than crude oil derived from the tar sands. The extraction and refining of tar sands produces three times more climate-changing emissions than conventional sweet crude oil, uses and pollutes an intense amount of water, and turns pristine forests into wastelands in Canada. More information on the dangers of tar sands and other dirty fuels can be found at: http://www.nrdc.org/dirtyfuels
The following are comments from the petitioners about the final settlement:
Kathy Andria, American Bottom Conservancy
“We have deep concerns about the rush of oil companies to use tar sands—from the negative impacts to the air and water quality in refinery communities, to the land and water where tar sands are extracted, to reduced air quality from tailpipe emissions from tar sands-derived fuel, and ultimately to the future of our planet. Our appeal could not stop that. What we did get will help our refinery communities to become more energy efficient and to reduce pollutants locally. But, we also got incredibly better monitoring that could lead to even greater reductions of emissions that cause cancer and lung and heart disease—not only here but throughout the country.”
Eric Schaeffer, Environmental Integrity Project
"The Conoco settlement marks the first time a large oil refinery has agreed to measure and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Even better, the company will be using new technology that will much more accurately measure both global warming pollutants and toxic gases that ordinarily escape detection. This settlement is a breakthrough; it will mean cleaner air for Conoco's neighbors, and show that even oil refineries can contribute to the fight against global warming."
Wayne Politsch, Chair of the Piasa Palisades group of the Sierra Club
"We remain concerned about the impacts of tar sands mining, transportation, and refining but this agreement is a win in the battle to reduce the impact of pollution on our environment and to protect the health of our communities and ecosystems. It also shows that creating good jobs and environmental advocacy are not mutually exclusive”.
Ann Alexander, Natural Resources Defense Council
“I think this settlement establishes the rigorous flare controls in place in California as a national standard, and it comes not a moment too soon. Refinery expansions aimed at processing more dirty crude from Canada are happening right and left, so we expect a lot of similar fights in the near future. We hope that the other refineries will follow ConocoPhillips’ lead. Big Oil needs to shell out some of its record profits to pay the environmental cost of its operations, rather than forcing people nearby to pay that cost in the form of harm to their health from air pollution.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 2 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.