Middle East Refining News
ConocoPhillips, Public Discuss Wood River Expansion
by Nick Lucchesi, The Telegraph, Alton, Ill. Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
May 09, 2007
A public hearing Tuesday night at Hartford (Ill.) Elementary School was the setting for community members, state officials and ConocoPhillips executives to talk about a proposed refinery expansion that would increase oil output by more than 79,000 barrels a day in the next five years.
About 100 people filled the gymnasium of the school, as business advocates declared support for the expansion, which would create 1,500 temporary construction jobs and 100 permanent positions in the next five years.
If approved, the refinery would boost its output from 306,000 barrels of refined products per day to 385,000 barrels. Construction of more refining equipment would begin in 2008.
Community members -- many of whom said they lived within a few miles of the refinery -- voiced concerns over past incidents involving the refinery and asked about the increased air and water pollution that would be emitted as a result of the expansion.
In October, ConocoPhillips announced a joint venture with Canadian energy company EnCana for two ConocoPhillips refineries (the Wood River Refinery in Roxana and the Borger Refinery in Borger, Texas) to refine heavy Canadian crude oil. The crude would be piped down from the oil sands in northern Alberta. The companies would own 50-50 shares of the operation.
The public hearing is required by state law, and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency held it as a final step before it makes a decision whether to approve three permits relating to water and air discharges.
Residents shared anecdotes of their time living next to the refinery, while environmental advocates addressed the refinery expansion's increased air and water pollution.
The IEPA has said that the increased pollution falls within state requirements as long as emissions-reducing scrubbers and other equipment are installed.
Herman Seedorf, the refinery's manager, answered several questions directly, including one from Christine Favilla of the Alton-based Piasa Palisades chapter of the Sierra Club, an environmental protection group.
Favilla asked about the installation of a delayed coker unit, which is used in the refining process to separate coke -- a byproduct from the heavy crude oil -- from oil used for gasoline and diesel fuel. The viscous coke often is used as fuel in area power plants.
Favilla asked how previous federal EPA and U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations involving the coker unit would be addressed at the refinery.
"How will the employees be safe and the nearby residents be safe with the known problems this coker does have and the OSHA and the U.S. EPA has admitted to?" Favilla asked.
"When we construct our new facility, it will have all the latest safety innovations that go along with operating that equipment," Seedorf said.
Darrell Williams, 68, told the four-person IEPA panel that he thinks his wife's fatal cancer was caused by inhaling benzene, an air pollutant emitted from refineries.
Williams said that when he was a laborer, he helped construct the coker at the refinery. The same coker later spilled oil onto his house on Melrose Avenue in South Roxana in September 2006, he said.
"They came out and washed (my house) down, and I wasn't satisfied with the wash job; it was a hit-and-miss job," Williams said. "I hope this ain't no hit-and-miss job with this other coker."
Supporters and opponents of the refinery expansion appeared equal in numbers during the several-hour hearing that began at 7 p.m. and continued well past 9 p.m.
Monica Bristow, president of the Growth Association of Southwestern Illinois, and Patrick McKeehan of the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois spoke in favor of the refinery expansion, praising the jobs it would create.
U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, submitted a letter of support.
Rachel Doctors, an IEPA attorney who acted as hearing officer, said written questions can be submitted to the IEPA until midnight June 7.
A transcript of the hearing will be posted on the Illinois Pollution Control Board's Web site, http://www.ipcb.state.il.us/.
Copyright (c) 2007, The Telegraph, Alton, Ill. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.