Enviros seek zero impact from refinery expansionLocal residents aired their concerns Monday about a proposal for a nearly seven-fold expansion of Murphy Oil.
By: Shelley Nelson, The Daily Telegram
Local residents aired their concerns Monday about a proposal for a nearly seven-fold expansion of Murphy Oil.
Clean Wisconsin, a Madison-based environmental group, was in Superior on Monday to meet with local residents and discuss environmental concerns about the billion-dollar proposal. The organization advocates for the environment by working on statewide policy, developing grassroots organizing and fighting for enforcement of existing laws and regulations to protect the environment.
Murphy Oil is just one of several refinery projects in the works, said Melissa Malott of Clean Wisconsin. Other projects include Marathon Oil in Detroit, the BP expansion in Whiting, Ind., and the Gorilla Project in South Dakota, plus others in Wood River, Ill., and Ohio.
“We believe environmental responsibility is something we all have to do. We’re looking at — what are the effects of this going to be on the Great Lakes? What are the effects going to be on air quality? What are the effects going to be on the wetlands,” Malott said.
Although Murphy Oil has a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant and microorganisms can live in the effluent discharge, the company’s track record on air quality includes a recent notice of violation from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and a lawsuit by the Environmental Protection Agency several years ago because of its sulfur emissions, she said. The notice resulted from violations of the company’s air quality permits and its federal decree resulting from the EPA lawsuit, she said.
For Kathy Wermter, who has called the refinery about odor that blows into her South Superior neighborhood, that’s a concern. Jan Conley, a retired Bryant Elementary School teacher, agreed, recalling the sometimes noxious-smelling odors coming from the refinery when she took her students outside.
“This is not scientific evidence, but when I worked at Bryant, I was always just shocked by the number of inhalers in the nurse’s desk,” Conley said. “I’ve been at other schools in the district and I never saw anything like Bryant. That’s certainly just anecdotal stuff, but I’ve always just kind of wondered about it.”
Living north of the refinery, Conley said she could only remember smelling it once in 25 years at home.
Refinery Manager Dave Podratz said Murphy’s permit makes allowance for start ups, shut downs, and malfunctions.
“...if we emit over 1,350 pounds … due to those sort of things, then we have to file a report with the DNR explaining what the possibilities are to reduce that,” he said. “Most of those emissions came from power failures.”
The average overage, Podratz said was about 50 pounds in a month, significantly less than the stack at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, which emits 50 tons per year, he said.
He said the excess emissions are unlikely to cause the odor Wermter or Conley were talking about.
“The modeling done by the DNR says it’s not a hazard,” Podratz said. “That’s certainly not to say that it isn’t a nuisance.”
Podratz answered a variety of questions for the small group gathered at the library Monday night, becoming an impromptu guest speaker. However, some questions remained unanswered because the expanded refinery design is not complete and the environmental impact statement won’t be available until next year.
Attorney Glenn Cunningham questioned whether other refineries in the nation could demonstrate how it would work.
“We would be the first and most efficient to do it,” Podratz said. He said while an additional two million barrels of oil from the Alberta sands are expected to flow through Superior in the next 5-15 years, the proposed expansion would only use about 10 percent of that. The company already refines synthetic crude from the Alberta oil sands, he said.
The only change is the company will produce petroleum coke, Podratz said, which is used for fuel and to manufacture electrodes and dry cells for batteries.
The expansion plan includes shutting down a large portion of the current facility and using the best available technology in the expanded one, Podratz said. He said the new plant would also include redundancies that are not cost-effective for the current small refinery.
Pollution was only one concern. Displacing vast expanses of wetlands is another. Podratz, however, said it’s not known yet if the refinery would be able to constructed on wetlands. “It’s a very high hurdle,” he said.
“If this happens, we’re really concerned that this makes the wetlands protection laws irrelevant,” Malott said. While she understands jobs are important, Malott said renewable energy has more potential for jobs than an oil refinery. “Wind is the most job-intensive industry.”
The Renewable Energy Policy Project estimates almost 7,000 new jobs could be created in Wisconsin with a $2.32 billion investment in wind energy.
“We have this fence post that we’re on,” Malott said. “We can step back 30 years and not do something about global warming emissions and not do something to clean up the environment or we can take a step forward to renewable energies that hold a lot of promise for us.”
Shelley Nelson is available at email@example.com or (715) 395-5022.