Upgrading the BP-Husky oil refinery in Oregon to process heavier-grade crude is all about letting the facility’s owners use oil from their own sources in western Canada instead of buying it on the market, refinery officials said during an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency hearing Wednesday night.
“This is a difficult-to-process oil,” said Mark Dangler, president and refining manager of BP-Husky Refining LLC. “You can corrode your metal away and destroy your refinery; you have to have the right equipment. Not everyone can do that. We have a pretty good refinery that can actually do quite a bit, but it actually cannot handle the full 90,000 barrels a day that's going to go in phase one.”
But critics at the Lake Erie Center in Oregon questioned whether enabling BP-Husky to use petroleum extracted from oil sands in Alberta is ecologically the right thing to do.
“Climate change is about survival, it’s not about the environment,” said Gretchen Thomas of Lake Township, who argued the refinery's proximity to Lake Erie makes it ripe for ecological trouble.
“It opens the door to environmental disasters. BP’s right at the lake. I think the efforts are better served in alternative sources," she said during a protest outside the center.
The Western Lake Erie Sierra Club and a supporter from Move to Amend, a coalition that works to overcome corporate power, also attended the meeting.
“It’s all about corporate control and they’re just wrecking everything,” said Norwalk resident Ken Svitak, one of about 75 who attended the meeting.
Mr. Dangler said neither BP nor Husky uses open-pit mining techniques for the Sunrise Energy Project, the Alberta production site that would supply the refinery.
“We are using a more advanced or the next kind of generation of oil processing,” he said.
Mr. Dangler also addressed safety.
“We take safety really seriously. It is our number one priority. All the indicators are heading in the right direction and the plant is running more reliably. We put the foundation in place to run the business well,” he said.
Chad Culbertson, president United Steelworkers Local 1-346, which represents the refinery's employees, said the union supports the project.
"I believe ... BP has done everything they said they were going to do [for safety]," he said.
Mr. Dangler said BP and Husky plan to develop the Alberta oil lease together. The first phase is scheduled to start producing oil in late 2014 and into 2015.
Mr. Dangler said the goal for phase one is to produce a capacity of about 90,000 barrels per day. He said retooling and upgrading the facility is essential for that process.
“What we're doing is designing this facility, strategically to produce that oil here,” he said.
Ohio EPA has issued a draft air-quality permit for BP-Husky's proposed Toledo Feedstock Optimization project, which the company estimates will cost about $400 million. Mr. Dangler said the project will ensure the refinery's viability well into the future.
“Our goal is to set this up as the last refinery in Ohio. We want to continue to be a good kind of corporate citizen,” he said. “Our intent is in no way to take any shortcuts and we feel confident that we've done that."
Mr. Dangler acknowledged that processing the thicker oil will consume more energy, resulting in higher greenhouse-gas emissions, but he said that will be offset by the replacement of older, inefficient equipment at the refinery.
Construction, scheduled to begin late this year, will create about 200 temporary jobs but no significant long-term employment at the refinery, Mr. Dangler said.
Ohio EPA and the Toledo Division of Environmental Services will continue to accept additional comments about the permit application until Monday.
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