Valero's Magic Box, balancing sludge v. stink of crude oil
Posted March 26, 2014
Last night I learned all about the magic box of Valero’s “operating envelope” at their Benicia (San Francisco Bay Area) refinery during their public meeting for the proposed Crude Oil Rail Terminal. Valero staff described the proposal to a packed audience, speaking cheerfully about bringing two 50-tanker car trains of crude oil in and out of Benicia each day. The friendly façade crumbled a little during the lengthy explanation to concerned community residents about the type of crude oil that could be coming in those tanker trains, confirming that they may carry dirty tar sands and volatile Bakken crude oil.
This slide from Valero’s presentation shows the magic box that bounds the density of the crude oil – the sludge factor, and the sulfur levels – aka the stink factor – of the crude oil that the Valero Benicia refinery is capable of handling. It turns out though that the refinery can take a lot of different kinds of crude oil outside the magic yellow box; these are the yellow triangles. The yellow triangles outside the magic box include both Bakken and tar sands crude oil. That is to say that they can get the world’s dirtiest and most dangerous crude oils into the magic box of the refinery operating envelope by mixing them. That’s right, they can brew up an exceptionally hazardous cocktail of tar sands sludge mixed with volatile Bakken crude oil to get inside the magic box.
So, Valero can take the sludgiest, highest stink crude oil and cut it with lighter oil. Then, voila, they say there are no changes to the balance of sludge and stink in the crude oil refined. Although this mix may look like the same old conventional crude oil according to Valero's magic box theory, the reality is that this kind of blend of extreme crude oils creates the greatest public health hazards. Why? It retains the toxic heavy metal contamination from sludgy crudes and that comes out as air pollution; It is much harder to process, which means even more air pollution; it is unstable, prone to volatilizing toxic hydrocarbons like benzene; and it is highly corrosive, putting the refinery and infrastructure at greater risk of accidents.
Will Valero come clean with a real analysis of the public health, safety and environmental risks of the project when the draft Environmental Impact Report comes out next month? Or will they hide these impacts in magic boxes?
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