Two of the state’s largest Oil refineries were ordered by Northern California authorities on Wednesday to reduce fine particulate air pollution, which may necessitate costly plant changes. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s governing board voted 19-3 to require refineries in the area, including Chevron Corp.’s (CVX.N) Richmond plant and PBF Energy Inc.’s (PBF.N) Martinez refinery, to install wet gas scrubbers within five years to reduce pollution emitted by their gasoline-making fluid catalytic cracking units (FCCU).
According to the air quality district, the new regulation will reduce PBF and Chevron’s particulate matter emissions from their cat crackers by around 70%. Small particulate matter, which consists of solid or liquid airborne particles, is one of the most hazardous pollutants emitted by refineries as crude Oil is converted into fuel.Long-term exposure has been linked to respiratory, pulmonary, and cognitive issues. FCCUs, which convert heavy crude Oil into lighter petroleum products like gasoline, are among the Bay Area’s worst pollutants of delicate particulate matter. According to the modified rule, refineries using FCCUs must limit yearly particulate matter emissions to 0.01 grain per dry standard cubic foot within the next five years.
The refiners projected to be most affected by the regulation change, Chevron and PBF, have pushed authorities to explore a less harsh 0.02 limit by 2023. In addition, the Benicia refinery of Valero Energy Corp (VLO.N) already has a wet gas scrubber. Upgrades to the FCCUs, according to refiners and their backers, including numerous refinery labor unions, would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, result in refinery layoffs, and put pressure on the plants to shut down.
They say that running the wet gas scrubbers would demand a lot of water in an already dry environment. But, according to health professionals, environmental groups, and other proponents of the regulation change, the addition of wet scrubbers would result in significantly better air, particularly for children, low-income residents, and people of color, who are disproportionately harmed by refinery pollution.