Recently, Marathon Petroleum Corporation's (MPC's) refinery in Detroit, Michigan, made plans to enable the production of lower-sulfur gasoline, as required by the “Tier 3” rule from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Since the project requires the refinery to install new equipment, MPC filed a permit application with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to install it.
Adding new processes to a refinery – especially to remove sulfur from fuels – typically requires more energy. It also means there will be more emissions.
In the permit application with the MDEQ, MPC projected additional emissions would include about 22 tons per year of sulfur dioxide (SO2) (most of which is already allowed under existing permit); 22 tons per year of nitrogen oxides; and smaller increases in several other pollutants that are regulated by the EPA. Refinery emissions of all pollutants still would have been well under the levels allowed under the current permit.
However, during public hearings held in Detroit, company representatives heard from community residents, elected officials and civic leaders, who told us they opposed any increase in emissions from the refinery at all. They were especially concerned about SO2.
Within a 2-mile radius of the Detroit refinery, there are several industrial facilities, including steel mills, power plants and more. In fact, all of the Detroit refinery’s emissions of “criteria air pollutants” – those that are regulated and tracked by the EPA – amount to only 3 percent of those emissions within that 2-mile radius. Nonetheless, residents were concerned about the cumulative effect of even a small increase.
MPC then shared as much information as possible with local residents and elected officials. Among other details, MPC noted its commitment to other projects that would reduce its overall SO2 emissions more than the Tier 3 Project’s increases.
“What we heard from the community, including Detroit Mayor Michael Duggan’s administration, was this: If you’re going to reduce SO2 emissions anyway, then add those reductions to your current permit application, and make them enforceable,” said Dave Roland, general manager of the Detroit refinery. “So we worked with Mayor Duggan’s administration and the MDEQ, and that’s exactly what we did.”
Through engineering and technology adjustments, MPC was able to change its projected increases of three pollutants, including SO2, into net decreases, and we are projecting much smaller increases in other criteria pollutants.
Roland said that when MPC applied for the permit with the MDEQ, the company did everything by the book.
“But in doing so, we overlooked something important – we should have contacted the elected officials from Detroit and neighboring communities before we filed, to let them know about the project, what benefits it will provide and why we were applying,” he said. “I think the Tier 3 permit process turned out well for everyone in the end, and as a result, our approach will be more positive and proactive in the future.”
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