California is setting up the world for more emissions and higher costs

By |2018-09-28T10:44:42+00:00September 27th, 2018|Energy|0 Comments

California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) has proposed an option that would ban a critical refinery process technology at two Southern California refineries that is required for manufacturing cleaner-burning gasoline. These two refineries operate hydrofluoric acid (HF) alkylation units that use a modified form of HF (MHF), the latest advance in catalyst technology that enhances worker and community safety. Although the SCAQMD already approved this technology, the Agency is considering banning use of MHF via Proposed Rule 1410 and will develop a regulation by May 2019 to better mitigate the risk from – or possibly phase out — the use of hydrofluoric acid used at two Southland refineries.

The HF or MHF technology is currently in use at 50 US refineries (page 54 of the link), but banning that technology in California, which is an “energy island” to its almost 40 million citizens, located between the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, would likely result in both major fuel producers being shut down, according to the California Energy Commission (CEC). This would put the state at the mercy of fuels to be imported from foreign countries or other states and result in permanent spikes in fuel costs and higher GHG emissions.

In fact, with no pipelines over the Sierra Mountains, the result of closing two California refineries would be higher costs to consumers and higher emissions to the world to get California their fuels from other countries or states with less stringent environmental regulations. Importantly, there is inadequate storage infrastructure to manage imports at the level a phase-out would require.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) mandates the most stringent fuel standard in the world to reduce emissions and protect the environment. “Alkylate” is needed in fuel production to meet this standard. In addition to the two California refineries (Torrance and Wilmington), a majority of refineries across the country that make alkylate use Hydrofluoric Acid (HF) alkylation.

In addition to the fifty U.S. refineries using HF or MHF in their alkylation units:

  • HF has been used in manufacturing since the 1700’s, which is over 250 years.
  • HF alkylation has been used by California refineries since 1966.
  • Today, the refining industry makes up less than two percent of HF use; many major industries in Southern California and across the country safely use HF to create common consumer products such as computers, televisions, cell phones, medicine, refrigerants, and much more.

The California Energy Commission is on record saying that banning MHF would likely cause the Torrance and Wilmington Refineries to cease operations. This would devastate California’s economy, resulting in thousands of local jobs lost and higher prices for gasoline and consumer goods for all Californians. Importing those fuels into California would also increase GHG emissions, as the fuel needs would come from countries or states with less stringent environmental regulations than California.

When an explosion occurred at the former ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance in 2015, the refinery never totally shut down, but was able to purchase alkylate at a high cost and keep producing fuels at a lower rate. During that “partial down time”, fuel prices escalated about 26 cents per gallon per the California Energy Commission (CEC). The current scenario could result in two refineries shutting down!

If California’s SCAQMD actions results in the shutdown of the PBF and Valero refineries, who will provide the daily fuel needs of California? Banning MHF at two refineries would:

  • Eliminate 30% of the jet fuel supply for the Los Angeles International Airport.
  • Eliminate more than 75% of the marine diesel fuel for ships at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
  • Eliminate 30% of Southern California’s gasoline supply.
  • Raise the costs of materials of 6,000 products from petroleum used by every infrastructure that are made from the chemicals and by-products that are manufactured from crude oil.

Realistically, any major change from a MHF to a sulfuric technology at the either refinery would be required to go through the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) permitting process. The CEQA permitting process would consider the differences in the two technologies and the negative environmental impacts associated with more emissions emanating from more equipment in a Sulfuric Acid Alky unit than the MHF Alky unit. Sulfuric Acid units have more fittings, and more sources for fugitive emissions, and about 1,200 trucks of Sulfuric Acid driving through the community every month to deliver acid to the refinery. 

In addition to California setting up the world for more emissions, and greater energy costs for Californians, sulfuric acid process technology brings increased emissions, and acid trucks driving through both communities, which are huge stumbling blocks to complete the CEQA permitting process.

The SCAQMD needs to look at the entirety of their proposal, because the status quo is the safest, most efficient alternative available.

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