Wood River Expansion Hits A Snag
by Kim Mcguire St. Louis Post-Dispatch
June 09, 2008
The planned expansion of the Wood River refinery suffered a setback last week as a federal appeals board granted a partial victory to environmental groups that challenged a crucial air permit granted last year to ConocoPhillips.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Integrity Project and the Illinois-based American Bottomlands Conservancy challenged the permit issued by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency arguing -- among other things -- that harmful air pollution from the refinery's flares was not being controlled.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency appeals board determined that Illinois EPA didn't adequately address questions raised during the permit process regarding pollution from the flares and ordered the agency to go back and analyze that data.
The ruling opens the door for another round of public comments, which could push back the $15 billion project even further.
Project officials had hoped to start construction earlier this year but that was on hold as a result of the challenge before the appeal board.
"Right now we're in the process of digesting all the pieces of this decision to determine how it's going to impact the refinery," said Bill Graham, a ConocoPhillips spokesman.
Members of the environmental groups that challenged the permit said the appeal board decision sends Illinois EPA and ConocoPhillips back to the drawing board.
"Our intention is not to stop the expansion project, but to ensure that the refinery lives up to the standards of the Clean Air Act and its protections for the people who live and work nearby," said Natural Resources Defense Council Attorney Ann Alexander. "ConocoPhillips simply ignored the requirement to find and use the best available pollution control technology."
A spokeswoman for Illinois EPA said the agency "stands by our commitment to the environment and our permit," but could not further comment on the decision as it was being reviewed. She also could not specify how long that review might take and whether it would delay the project.
The planned expansion is a joint project of ConocoPhillips and EnCana Corp., a Canadian company. It is part of a $15 billion plan to expand EnCana's oil production from the oil sands in northeastern Alberta and process the oil at ConocoPhillips refineries in Roxana and Borger, Texas.
The expansion, if both of two planned phases are completed, is expected to add 80 to 100 permanent jobs to the 800 now provided by the refinery.
Copyright (c) 2008, St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.