CAP Update: February 14, 2013
By Al Denio:
I attend monthly meetings at the refinery as I have done for several years. When the CAP was first established after the deadly explosion and fire in 2001, Motiva owned the facility. One of the conditions to keep its state permits was to establish a CAP with representatives from the neighboring developments and the environmental community.
Then Motiva sold the refinery to Premcor. They later sold to Valero (this refinery, built in 1957, has had multiple owners). A few years ago the refinery was shut down with plans to sell it for scrap. The loss of over 500 good jobs was a blow to Delaware’s economy, especially after the closing of the Chrysler and General Motors plants.
Gov. Markell was able to find a buyer willing to restart the refinery and restore those important jobs. A grand reopening ceremony was held with almost every Delaware politician in attendance in 2010.
Some former staff members and workers were rehired. A new plant manager, Herman Seedorf, was brought in to restart the refinery.
The old refinery was shut down poorly since a restart was not planned. This greatly complicated the startup of operations, requiring a great expense and many delays. Eventually the refinery returned to normal operations.
There have been some recent problems, especially in late January when the “coking” units carbon monoxide boiler failed. This resulted in huge emissions of sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, other toxic compounds and soot. State emission limits were exceeded which means DNREC will require fines to be paid, all part of doing business.
Operating a very large, old, and complex refinery comes with many challenges. I am convinced that Herman Seedorf and his staff are dedicated professionals who try to run a safe and clean operation. They place great emphasis on health and safety of their employees.
However, my great concern is the refinery changing from foreign crude oil imported by ship to Canadian crude brought in by train. The News Journal did a major article on this in the February 10 edition.
The CAP was informed of plans to process tar sands oil from Canada at our October 9 meeting. We were briefed by Don Thompson, Executive Advisor, Sustainability and Oil Sands Outreach, Canadian Oil Sands Limited. He talked about the evils of oil imports from the Middle East and how Canada, our good neighbor to the north, could be our long-term oil provider for many years. He pointed out that his company has contracts with four companies in Delaware and “at least 1,000 U.S. companies already supply the oil sands.” This pitch reminds me of our defense contractors that find suppliers in all 50 states so that their weapons systems get approved in Congress.
PBF Energy is in the refining business to make a profit. Buying cheap high sulfur crude from Canada is a “no brainer” decision for them since this refinery was designed originally to process this type of crude oil.
Why am I unhappy with this shift to tar sands oil? It is an environmental disaster from start to finish. A large energy and water input is required to get the heavy crude separated from the rock-like material that is mined. Deeper deposits are harder to mine so steam is pumped underground to extract the crude. Thus, the initial step results in carbon dioxide emissions and water pollution. This water then goes to “settling ponds” where it will remain for years and be forever contaminated.
The heavy crude must be shipped in special heated and insulated tank cars to keep the crude in the liquid state. The cars are then heated by steam in Delaware City. Thus, we are using energy to transport the crude plus more energy for heating, a double carbon dioxide loss.
The shipping distance from the Athabasca tar sands in Canada’s Alberta Province to Delaware City is estimated to be about 2,700 miles. Over that distance there are countless rail-highway crossings and bridges where accidents are possible. Recall the recent bridge failure in New Jersey where a tank car of vinyl chloride ruptured and went into the river.
Rail traffic will trump car traffic so there will be more problems in New Castle County. If you drive on Routes 9, 40 or 896, you could face ten-minute delays, not ideal if you are heading for the hospital emergency room. As you wait in your car for the train to pass, your car will be releasing carbon dioxide.
Why am I so concerned about this colorless, odorless gas called carbon dioxide? Science has been measuring these CO2 levels in our atmosphere for years. Increasing levels of this gas correlate well with the gradual temperature increase of our atmosphere, or what we call global warming. 2012 was the warmest year on record for the “lower 48” states. Increasing drought conditions and more intense storms are more common. Our oceans have absorbed more CO2, causing an increase in acidity and a lowering of pH. Shellfish may cease to exist in a more acidic ocean. Goodbye lobsters, crabs, clams, and oysters and hello jellyfish! Sea level rise is predicted to cause parts of Delaware to disappear. The earth as we know it is being changed forever.
Our attempts to block the Keystone XL pipeline in the Midwest continue. I urge you to write or call President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry to express your opposition to this pipeline to refineries on our Gulf coast. Your children and grandchildren will thank you!