Plans on Table for Hydrogen Plant at Richmond Refinery
by John Geluardi Contra Costa Times, Walnut Creek, Calif.
March 22, 2007
An engineering company on Thursday was set to present plans to build a hydrogen plant at the Richmond Chevron refinery that would deliver gas to refineries in Rodeo and Martinez.
The plant would carry gas from Richmond to the ConocoPhillips refinery in Rodeo and the Shell refinery in Martinez via underground pipelines. The pipelines would be laid through the cities of Richmond, Pinole, Hercules and Martinez and through East Bay Regional parklands in the Carquinez hills.
"Hydrogen can be delivered by tanker trucks, pipelines and cylinders," said Susan Szita-Gore, communications director for Praxair Inc. "Pipeline is one of the safest methods because instead of having 20 trucks on the roadway, it's delivered underground."
Praxair will give an overview of the project to the Contra Costa County Hazardous Materials Commission today in Concord. The project is in the early stages and not expected to reach the permitting stage until sometime next year.
Hydrogen is used in the refining process to create cleaner-burning combustion engines by reducing the sulfur content in gasoline and diesel fuels. It also is increasingly used as fuel for low-emission vehicles.
The gas dissipates very quickly and is not considered a serious hazard if released into the atmosphere. However, it is very volatile, and there is a risk of serious explosions.
The risk level at the proposed Richmond plant or in the underground pipe network will not be fully known until the environmental impact report is completed next year, said Randy Sawyer, director of the Contra Costa County Hazardous Materials Program.
"I don't know if it will increase the danger level above those posed by existing hydrocarbons refining processes," Sawyer said. "The biggest threat, if there is one, would be localized in the refinery itself."
In 1996, a corroded pipeline caused a hydrogen release and explosion at the Tesoro Refinery in Martinez. A fire lasted about 10 minutes and did some damage at the refinery, but the blast was heard for a distance of two miles, Sawyer said.
The hazard level of the proposed Richmond plant needs to be considered within the context of all expansion projects planned for the Chevron refinery, said Henry Clark, executive director of the West County Toxics Coalition in North Richmond.
"We can't look at this as an isolated project," he said. "We have to look at the total hazard level created by all of the refinery's expansion projects."
Copyright (c) 2007, Contra Costa Times, Walnut Creek, Calif. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.