A multibillion-dollar refinery expansion project will have an effect on the area's economy -- and the neighbors surrounding the plant.
That was the sense of a town hall meeting Thursday, in which residents surrounding the ConocoPhillips site were given the chance to hear firsthand just what the impact of the construction will be.
The meeting was held at WRB Refining LLC, Wood River Refinery to discuss the processing plant's $3.6 billion expansion, its economic significance, employment opportunities and environmental concerns.
The Community Advisory Panel, a neighborhood group formed by the refinery in 2003 to foster better communication, played host to the event in the River's Edge Cafe inside the plant. More than 50 people attended the event, including municipal, school and refinery officials.
"The purpose of this meeting is to facilitate communication," Jennifer Giancola said.
Giancola, a consultant from Saint Louis University, said the mission of the CAP is to strengthen both the refinery and community by facilitating open communication, understanding and sensitivity; educating the refinery about the needs of the community and educating the community about the refinery operations and its role in the community; offering balanced advice and feedback on issues of mutual importance; and supporting community outreach programs and events.
The 24-member panel has become the company's eyes and ears in the community. It includes both leaders in the community and refinery employees, most of whom are from fence-line communities.
Giancola introduced five individuals to speak approximately 15 minutes about the expansion project, economic impact, employment opportunities and the plant's future, as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Air Toxic Study Results for Madison County.
Kent Peccola, process design director/chemical engineering manager for ConocoPhillips, talked about the company's expansion project, which is also known as the C.O.R.E. project, or Coker and Refinery Expansion Project.
He told the public why the project was needed, what it would do and -- once completed -- why it would benefit the community.
In January 2007, ConocoPhillips and EnCana Corp. formed the joint venture, WRB Refining LLC, and provided EnCana with 50 percent interest in two of ConocoPhillips' U.S. refineries -- the Wood River and Borger (Texas) refineries.
The expansion will give the refinery the capacity to process heavy Canadian crude oil, Peccola said.
"In this project, (the refinery) is trying to reuse as much as it can," he said.
He said that oil tanks either are being torn down or fixed and reused.
Peccola pointed out that when the project is complete, there will be a 95 percent reduction of sulfur dioxide being omitted from the plant.
"That is the reason the EPA OK'd the permits for the refinery to expand," he said.
Consultants Tim Sullivan and Warren Richards with RSN Economic Group talked about the economic impact of the project. The group gathered information and assessed what sectors of the population would be most affected by the jobs added and the economic activity the expansion would bring.
"It's kind of like a checkup," Richards said. "The (economic study) measures the health of the region's economy."
The study shows that the project would have an impact on 300,000 residents; generate approximately $325 million in local income and $48 million in annual ongoing income; create close to 4,000 jobs during the construction phase and 500 long-term jobs; and generate $14 million in local and state revenue during construction and $19 million each year once the expansion is complete.
Jay Hawley, human resources manager for ConocoPhillips, said more than 400 full-time union employees work at the refinery. He said the average age of a worker is 48 years old and at least 30 percent of the workforce was 55 years old.
"We will have a 4 percent attrition rate this year," Hawley said. "This means we've got to replace the folks that leave, and there will be job opportunities."
Gina Nicholson, manager of health and safety environment at ConocoPhillips, presented statistics from the 2002 National Air Toxic Assessment, which was released in June.
The study measures emissions and analyzes the data.
"It measures any and every outdoor emission source," Nicholson said. "It's a lot of work for the EPA to put together."
The purpose of the national-scale assessment is to identify and prioritize air toxics, emission source types and locations that are of greatest potential concern in terms of contributing to population risk.
Nicholson said the study shows the risk for developing cancer is high in Madison County. She said that the refinery, however, is not responsible for the high level of toxic emissions.
She said the public can visit www.epa.gov/nata2002 to find out more. She said Google Earth Risk Maps highlight areas with the most toxins, according to color.
"Those with shades of green are no or low risk of developing cancer," she said. "Those with orange, brown and dark brown are high risk."
The EPA developed these maps to inform both national and more localized efforts to collect air toxics information and characterize emissions.
Nicholson said the reason for Madison County's high contribution was due to the air quality in and around Granite City.
Once the presentation portion of the meeting concluded, Giancola opened the event up for public questions.
One questioner asked whether the refinery would be the only one in the United States to process Canadian crude.
"No," Peccola said. "However, not all refineries will be able to do what Wood River is doing to remove the heavy contaminants."
Other issues the public seemed concerned about were environmental water contamination and dust particulates from possible piles of slag.
Peccola said the refinery captures all groundwater runoff so that it flows into the refinery, so there is no chance for it to get into the public's groundwater supply. He said that all water runoff and that used in the plant is treated before being released, as well.
He also said that the water used in the plant is not from the same aquifer that supplies the community with its water supply.
Visit http://woodriverrefineryexpansion.com for more information about the C.O.R.E. project.
Copyright (c) 2009, The Telegraph, Alton, Ill. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.