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U.S. EPA Rejects ConocoPhillips Refinery Expansion

CHICAGO, Illinois, June 10, 2008 (ENS) – In a case that could affect oil refineries around the country, plans by ConocoPhillips to expand its refinery in Roxana, Illinois were sidelined on Friday when an appeal board of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency upheld a challenge to the air permit required for the project.

The decision sends ConocoPhillips and the Illinois EPA, which had granted the permits for the Wood River refinery expansion, back to the drawing board.

The legal challenge mounted by environmental groups in August 2007 argued that harmful air pollution from the refinery’s flares, which relieve pressure in the refining process, was not being sufficiently controlled.

The Natural Resources Defense Council led the challenge representing American Bottom Conservancy, a nonprofit organization based in the Metro East St. Louis area.

The Sierra Club was represented by the Environmental Integrity Project.

“This is a huge win for anyone living near a refinery, but especially the communities in the Metro East area and for St. Louis,” said Ann Alexander, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council and lead litigator on the challenge.

“Excessive emissions from this expanded refinery would have harmed the health of everyone in the region,” she said.


Worker at ConocoPhillips Wood River
refinery (Photo courtesy ConocoPhillips)

The Wood River Refinery is ConocoPhillips’ largest in the United States. The company seeks to invest an estimated $1 billion to add a second coker, or crude oil processor.

The refinery expansion is connected to ConocoPhillips’ development with TransCanada Pipelines of a proposed 1,840 mile pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta.

ConocoPhillips wants to expand the refinery to process crude oil extracted from Canadian tar sands, an energy source that the environmentalists point out generates three times more greenhouse gases than gasoline made from conventional oils.

At issue are the burning columns of waste gas known as flares that can be seen for miles, and which emit dangerous pollutants. NRDC attorneys contend that refineries elsewhere have reduced flaring through better design and improved management practices.

The challengers claimed that state officials have hindered local community input on the ConocoPhillips Roxana project and ignored “readily available, proven safeguards used widely at similar facilities nationwide.”

“At a time of record oil profits, this decision ensures ConocoPhillips will invest in protections for the surrounding communities, rather than pushing the cost of pollution onto taxpayers in the form of respiratory illness, hospital bills, and lost time at work,” said Alexander. “We hope this will become the norm at all oil refineries in the United States.”

“Illinois EPA ignored the simple rules required by law,” said Kathy Andria, president of American Bottom Conservancy and a member of the Illinois Sierra Club Clean Air Campaign. “Citizens should not have to file legal appeals to see that the Clean Air Act is enforced or that a state agency does the job it is supposed to do to protect their communities.”

Alexander points out that California refineries have been held to a higher standard than those elsewhere in the United States when it comes to cutting pollution from their flares.

“There is no reason that people in San Francisco or L.A. should have better protections than people elsewhere in the country. EPA is sending a message to oil refineries around the nation that it is time they clean up,” she said.

“This expansion project would not do anything to bring down gas prices right now,” said Alexander. “The ConocoPhillips refinery is expanding to process Canadian tar sands oil, which is profitable only if crude prices stay high.”

“We are not asking for hugely complicated or costly measures,” Alexander said. “Holding flare emissions down just requires sound engineering and responsible operating practices.”

Without the expansion, the Wood River Refinery refines approximately 306,000 barrels of oil per day to produce gasoline, jet fuel, diesel, asphalt, propane and other products, and supplies part of the St. Louis region, Chicago, Indiana and Ohio.

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