"...29 of 30 speakers at Planning Commission meeting oppose plan for hydrogen plant to refine crude oil"
John Geluardi - Contra Costa Times, June 9 2007.
The public had its first chance this week to comment on Chevron's plans to install a hydrogen plant for refining poor-quality crude oil.
The inexpensive "dirty" crude will increase refinery profit margins but also increase dangerous emissions from the Richmond refinery by about 800 tons a year, according to the project's draft environmental report. In 2004, Chevron exceeded state limits for toxic emissions by 475,000 pounds, according to a Bay Area Air Quality Management District emissions inventory.
But Chevron officials say the project will make the refinery safer and reduce overall emissions by improving efficiency.
About 30 people commented on the project's draft environmental report during a city Planning Commission meeting Thursday night. All but one of the speakers opposed the project, saying it would have negative health impacts on nearby low-income communities such as North Richmond, Achenston Village, the Iron Triangle and Parchester Village.
"If this plan goes forward, it will lock Richmond into refining dirty crude for the next 30 years," said Carla Perez, a project director with the Oakland-based Communities for a Better Environment. "It will exacerbate health impacts on already heavily impacted neighborhoods and increase the risk of a catastrophic incident."
The Richmond Planning Department will accept comments on the two-volume report until June 25. The Planning Commission is expected to approve or reject the report by August.
The larger project would consist of four component projects, which are considered in the environmental impact report. The components include the replacement of an outmoded steam boiler plant with a gas turbine "cogeneration" plant, a new gasoline reformer and hydrogen purity improvements.
Chevron has an opportunity to develop a less-polluting project by making hydrogen from water instead of fossil fuels and by generating power for the refinery by developing a green-energy structure that relies on solar and wind power sources, said Better Environment scientist Greg Karras.
"Chevron says it has to rebuild, replace and upgrade," Karras said. "And it's true they do, but they also have an opportunity to do that in a way that puts us on a course toward renewable refining."
But effective technology for producing hydrogen from water does not exist, Chevron spokesman Dean O'Hair said.
"I don't know of any technology like that that's available," O'Hair said. "This project is using the latest and most up-to-date technology available, which will make us one of the most efficient refineries in the United States."
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin remains skeptical of the refinery's arguments and wants to make sure the health of Richmond residents comes first.
"I'm very, very dedicated to the health of this community here in Richmond and making sure no further impact on an already-overburdened community is effected," McLaughlin said. "The pollution we've endured for decades has got to end."
Ruth Gilman, who lives near the refinery in Achenston Village, said she does not like the project.
"We had 30 people go to the hospital after Chevron's last accident in January, so why should we approve this expansion so they can produce hydrogen?" Gilman said. "Don't they pollute enough already?"
Comments on the draft environmental impact report for Chevron's plans to install a hydrogen plant must be received by 5 p.m. June 25. Address comments to Lamont Thompson, senior planner, city of Richmond, Planning and Building Regulations Department, 1401 Marina Way S., Richmond, CA 94804.