Apr 27, 2017 - Tesoro Refinery in Washington Seeks Expansion

The Tesoro refinery, located at March Point in Anacortes, WA, is currently looking to expand. The Tesoro refinery, along with the neighboring Shell oil refinery, are two of largest polluters in the Northwest. They were both constructed on lands stolen from the Swinomish Indian Nation.

March Point is the ancestral territory of the Swinomish peoples. March Point was taken from the Swinomish in 1873 by President Ulysses Grant, in an Executive Order, that diminished the size of the Indian reservation. This action opened up the land to be occupied by settler colonists and later occupied by oil corporations. The Swinomish ancestors signed the 1855 Treaty that gave acquired right to access food at “usual and accustomed places.” Over time, the air, land and water became contaminated and we have not gathered food from this area for quite some time.” Shelly Vendiola, Swinomish Tribal Member

Tesoro Refining and Marketing Company LLC is proposing upgrades and new equipment at the Tesoro Anacortes Refinery that would allow this facility to produce cleaner burning gasoline, as required by federal laws as of January 2017, and to produce a new product: mixed xylenes. This refinery is located approximately 70 miles north of Seattle on the northern half of the March Point Peninsula, east of Anacortes. It is on the Puget Sound region of the Salish Sea, and is bordered by Fidalgo and Padilla Bay. This facility has been a refinery since 1955, but Tesoro acquired it in 1998. It currently has a crude oil processing capacity of approximately 120,000 barrels a day.

The changes that are being proposed include infrastructure additions and upgrades to the existing refinery facility with the objective to improve the refinery’s capability to deliver gasoline and produce mixed xylenes, which are classified as a global feedstock used for many industrial purposes. Most these changes would occur within the already-developed areas of the refinery. These changes include expanding the Naphtha Hydrotreater (NHT) Unit to increase its processing capacity to further reduce the sulfur content in the gasoline being produced at this facility. They also plan to build a new Isomerization (Isom) Unit to increase the amount of octane available to the refinery. This new Isom Unit, coupled with the NHT expansion would provide more flexibility for gasoline production. The building of a new Aromatics Recovery Unit (ARU) would allow 15,000 barrels a day of mixed
xylenes to be produced at this facility.

A new steam boiler would be installed adjacent to the ARU to provide the additional process heat needed to operate the new ARU, and steam to operate the expanded NHT. Three new storage tanks would be built on currently undeveloped land. West of the refinery’s existing tank storage area. These tanks would expand the existing tank storage area, would hold reformate and mixed xylenes, and would be referred to as the “New Tanks Area” at the refinery. A new Marine Vapor Emissions Control (MVEC) System would be built to capture vapors during product loading and unloading from marine vessels docked at the refinery wharf.

The MVEC System consists of two physical components: The Dock Safety Unit (DSU) located on the wharf, and the Vapor Combustion Unit (VCU) located onshore. While the MVEC System is being installed as a part of this proposed project, it would also be used for other marine vessels, unrelated to xylenes transport, currently using the wharf. Two off-property areas would be changed due to this project, including refinements made to the North Texas Road near the refinery’s southern Gate 10 entrance that would widen the gate area and one area of the road. The second off-property change is the addition of five marine vessels per month calling at the refinery wharf for shipping the new product (mixed xylenes), and receiving additional reformate for use in xylene production.

What are Mixed Xylenes? What do they do? What are they for? What does lower sulfur content in gasoline mean?

Xylenes are made from petroleum feedstock through catalytic reforming, and are distilled from partly refined crude oil. They are a high-octane liquid and are a key component in the manufacture of many products. They are high in demand globally, and the US is a primary supplier of xylenes to overseas markets. Xylenes are used for medical films and X-Rays, spray paints, solvents and cleaners, synthetic fiber production (polyester), rubber and plastics manufacturing, industrial printing, paint thinners, and papermaking. Xylene production would diversify the refinery’s product ix, meaning it would increase the value of products produced by the refinery, which would in turn increase employment and economic value. This diversity of product mix would also increase the long term economic viability and financial stability of the refinery, meaning it could potentially operate for longer under these circumstances. Lower sulfur content in gasoline, as per the new federal fuel standards, would cause lower sulfur emissions from automobiles combusting this gasoline. This could potentially in turn cause a lower rate of health issues caused by emissions, along with several other factors listed below.

The Tesoro refinery in Anacortes
Flickr Photo/Scott Butner (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/e4EJ5B

Impacts on the Environment due to Construction and Production/Maintenance of the Refinery

The construction that would need to occur at this facility for the new changes could potentially cause soil disturbance due to grading and filling, which could increase susceptibility to erosion, degrade soil quality, expose soils, and create unstable stopes. Ninety percent of this construction would occur in the New Tanks Area, which is currently an unused pasture, and on the North Texas Road. If a spill were to happen during construction or operation, soil quality could also be degraded due to contamination. Because of significant past agricultural, industrial, commercial, and residential growth to this area, the earth resources have already been impacted, and no present or reasonably foreseeable actions were found that would impact the earth resources in this area.

Due to the use of heavy, non-road machinery during construction activities, air emissions of volatile organic compounds and pollutants could occur. These emissions consist of exhausts from the construction equipment, fugitive dust emissions during earth moving, and the increase of vehicle traffic. During the operation and maintenance of the refinery itself emissions of VOCs and pollutants would come from the new and modified sources in this project. New air emission sources include a boiler MVEC system, three new storage tanks for mixed xylenes and medium reformate, and new component equipment that could release VOCs (connectors, pumps, and valves) within the new ARU, ISOM Unit, modified NHT, and storage and product load-out areas. Greenhouse gas emissions from the refinery would increase during the operations and maintenance due to the new gas-fired boiler. But the project would also reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by replacing some of the refinery’s current fuel production with xylenes production. Xylenes would not be combusted like fuels are, but would be used as feedstock to make a variety of products.

The new tanks area would require grading, filling and rerouting of drainage ditches, and the removal of two small, isolated, manmade wetlands. There is the possibility that sheet flow of sediment or contaminants carried to surface water could impact water quality, but this is unlikely to reach Fidalgo Bay, as the drainage ditches and wetlands impacted are not directly connected to other wetlands or waterbodies. Vegetation removal would be required in the New Tanks Area, which is currently 15 acres of land that has previously been disturbed and used for urban reform, and does not provide quality wildlife habitat.

During the operation of this refinery, there would be increased marine vessel traffic of 60 more marine vessels per year. This increased traffic is expected to impact wild marine life. The impacted marine life could include, but is not limited to: whales, birds, endangered species, fish, and other sea mammals.

This project is expected to result in major health improvements in the US on a nationwide basis. By 2030 the Tier 3 Standards implementation is predicted to prevent up to 2,000 premature deaths, avoid up to 2,200 hospital admissions, and eliminate up to 19,000 asthma attacks each year due to the lower sulfur content in the gasoline being produced not only at this facility, but at all refineries across the country (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2016).

Tesoro Refining and Marketing Company LLC is proposing upgrades and new equipment at the Tesoro Anacortes Refinery that would allow this facility to produce gasoline with a lower sulfur content and mixed xylenes. The need to produce gasoline with lower sulfur content is due to the new Tier 3 Standards National law that was passed in January 2017. The changes being proposed require construction, that will impact the earth around the facility, and increased marine vessel traffic, which will impact the marine wildlife living in those waters, such as whales, birds, fish, and other marine life. In the long run the Tier 3 Standards implementation is expected to prevent thousands of premature deaths, hospital admissions, and asthma attacks a year due to the lower sulfur content in gasoline being produced across the country.

Written by: Nicole Lynne

Last Real Indians