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Valero new Scrubber online

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    Charles Randall
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    Valero refinery’s ‘scrubber’ ready for duty
    New multimillion-dollar system will reduce amount of sulfur dioxide released into the air
    By JEFF MONTGOMERY, The News Journal

    Posted Saturday, September 9, 2006A multimillion-dollar system that will tame one of Delaware’s largest single sources of air pollution is expected to start next week at the Valero Delaware City Refinery.

    The new sulfur dioxide “scrubber” on Valero’s petroleum “coking” unit will bring releases from one of the nation’s top refinery sources of acid rain, smog and dust-forming emissions to levels more typical of other nearby oil processors.
    “It’s going to take out 19,000 tons a year of sulfur dioxide — it’s a huge amount, absolutely,” said Ravi Rangan, an environmental program manager for the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.
    The unit squeezes gasoline out of petroleum coke — the solid substance left over from the refining process.
    Rangan was among the DNREC officials who helped pursue the refinery’s various owners for years over uncontrolled sulfur dioxide emissions and other pollution offenses. The effort eventually wound up in federal and state courts, producing corporate agreements to install two sulfur scrubbers.
    The second system, due to start by Dec. 31, will push the total pollution reduction to 30,000 tons of sulfur dioxide or more, an amount equal to the total output of several refineries in other areas. Major cuts in other types of emissions also were part of agreements that led to the scrubber project.
    Valero planned to send letters outlining the plan to residents who live within 5 miles of the refinery. More than 57,000 people occupied blocks inside or straddling that zone during the 2000 Census.
    Officials cautioned residents that the system could send up a prominent, but harmless, steam cloud.
    Combined, these two scrubbers will cost Valero nearly $400 million, and they provide no return on investment,” Andrew Kenner, Valero’s vice president and general manager, said in the company’s letter. “But they are an important part of our continuing efforts to improve air quality for our community. And we will continue looking for even better ways to protect and improve the environment.”
    Sulfur dioxide is an air pollutant that can cause respiratory irritation. The compound also contributes to formation of acid rain and fine dust that can carry toxic metals deep into lung tissues.
    The Environmental Protection Agency, DNREC and state and federal justice departments collaborated on the settlements and related penalties — approved in early 2001 and later amended.
    “This is huge. To date, it’s the largest single pollution control project in the history of the state, and it will yield great air quality benefits in the long term,” said David Small, deputy DNREC secretary. “It’s been a long road.”
    Deadlines for the original agreement were set back in part by public objections to the refinery’s first scrubber design. That system would have flushed more than 100,000 tons of sodium sulfate into the Delaware River annually, along with traces of mercury and other contaminants.
    Under a substitute design, the sulfur dioxide gases will be converted to elemental sulfur that Valero can sell for other industrial uses. Chemicals used to capture the pollution are recycled, limiting pollution discharged to the river.
    Valero had been on track to start the first scrubber by June, but saw those plans set back by steel and construction industry disruptions caused by Hurricane Katrina.
    “There’s no question that the startup of the scrubber on the coker isn’t a perfect thing, but it’s a good thing. It’s important,” said Alan Muller, who directs Green Delaware and who brought to light shortcomings in the refinery’s earlier plan. Muller said permits for the systems could clear the way for increased production at the refinery, bumping overall emissions upward.
    “I think there are many other shoes that haven’t dropped yet,” Muller said.
    Contact Jeff Montgomery at 678-4277 or jmontgomery@delawareonline.com.

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