Holly refinery working to reduce emissions

Posted at 6:14 PM, Mar 05, 2013
and last updated 2013-03-06 00:28:58-05

WEST BOUNTIFUL, Utah - Environmental groups blame big industries like oil refineries for the State's bad air, but refineries say it's only providing what the public demands: gas to fuel their cars.

Holly Frontier Oil Refinery gave Fox 13 a tour of one of its facilities on Tuesday and while activists want them out of the Wasatch Front, Holly only plans to get bigger.

"We've met with activist groups and given them information and they've basically indicated that they've, they receive the information and they don't believe it," says Michael Astin, the environmental manager for Holly Frontier.

He says oil refineries have long been questioned about their practices.

"I think the biggest problem there is the stigma just the idea of that we're an oil company. Oil companies are viewed as having emissions that are toxic and bad," says Astin.

During the day, Utahns may notice what looks like smoke coming from stacks at the refinery in West Bountiful.

Astin says, "It's nothing but water vapor."

The refinery says the plumes are just steam, not pollution.

What about the night flares? Activists have questioned what the big bright orange flames shooting from the pipes at the refineries are all about.

"For one the flares are just more visible at night, the flares is a safety measure; it's if we have an overpressure somewhere in the refinery," says Astin.

The flares are a way to release pressure which builds up during the day and in the impact on the environment is minimal according to Holly Frontier.

"It has the same impact that you would have burning any other material; you burn natural gas in your home when you heat your home, that has emissions."

The seven billion dollar company  which operates five refineries across the country including Holly, says they refine 31,000 barrels of crude oil per day in Utah alone.

The refinery plans on expanding in the near future. Four years from now they want to be able to bring in an additional 30,000 barrels of crude a day.

They say overall emissions will go down, but Fox 13 asked how is that even possible?

Astin explained, "We want to bring in more but also it's different."

Right now the refinery trucks in Utah Crude Oil from the Eastern part of the State, but they also bring in crude from Canada through pipelines. Holly wants to put a stop to that down the road partly because of the scrutiny. They say Utah's crude oil also has lower levels of sulfur.

The company says along with its plan to refine more local crude, Holly has also installed new equipment like a wet gas scrubber, which helps reduce its carbon footprint. The company plans on installing a second scrubber soon.

"What we're emitting now is far less than what we're permitting to emit " says Astin.

Holly has however also come under fire from the EPA. About a year and a half ago, the company admits it was fined more than $100,000 for violating "risk management planning requirements."

Astin says, "In the past there have been occasions where we've had upsets that have caused us to exceed those guidelines."

The company says while they are used to the criticism, Holly has been around since 1932, long before guidelines were put in place, and it's the public that keeps them in business.

"We provide a valuable service that people need transportation fuels and that's what we provide for them, if you want to control emissions then be smart about how you drive," says Astin.

Local environmental groups want oil refineries to leave the Wasatch Front, but Holly says that's pretty much impossible.

The refinery says it's committed to being a good neighbor, and say they are taking measures to make sure their emissions go down and that's partly because they have to. They are required to change its practices due to new federal guidelines.