Oil Refinery Made Air Cleaner, According to Company Hired by Obama's Administration


Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group), the contractor that performed the environmental review for TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline, was also recently hired by a major Delaware City, Delaware refinery to study air quality around the plant. 

This "study" was funded by the refinery itself. Delaware City Refinery is owned by Delaware City Refining Company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of PBF Energy. The plant receives 180,000 barrels per day, between fracked oil from North Dakota's Bakken Shale and oil extracted from Alberta's tar sands; the refinery's owner referred to the two as the "holy grail" at a February meeting. The barrels saunter eastward via mile-long freight trains owned by Norfolk Southern.

Conducted in March, the study concluded that the "air quality [near the refinery] is as good as, and in some cases, better than samples taken during the 2011 study before the refinery restart," according to a flier obtained by DeSmogBlog that promoted two public meetings hosted by ERM to discuss results. 

However, an independent air sample study conducted a mile away from the plant detected the cancer-causing compound benzene at levels far above those set by the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as soot and sulfur dioxide.

ERM Group — a dues-paying member of American Petroleum Institute, which has spent over $22 million on lobbying regarding tar sands and Keystone XL since the pipeline was proposed in June 2008 — said that because Alberta's tar sands will get to market with or without the Keystone XL pipeline, the tube's northern half, "is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of [tar sands] development."

Under that logic, Keystone XL — which, according to the Climate Action Plan, President Barack Obama will only approve if it doesn't "significantly exacerbate ... carbon pollution" — won't have a "substantial impact" on climate change. That could mean "game on" for the pipeline. 

Yet Another Illegal ERM Group Lie

This proves, once again, that ERM Group lied on the conflict-of-interest form it submitted to the State Department, which claimed it has no "direct or indirect relationship (financial, organizational, contractual or otherwise) with any business entity that could be affected in any way by the proposed work," as can be seen in that section of the form below:

Given ERM's current ties to the Alaska Gas Pipeline Project, the Delaware City Refinery, and the refinery's direct relationship with tar sands refining and marketing, the false claim may violate 18 USC § 1001. That law says making a "materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation ... [to the] executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States" is a crime punishable by up to five years in jail. 

Friends of the Earth and the Checks & Balances Project have called for a full-throttle State Department Inspector General investigation into the contractual relationship between ERM Group and the State Department. 

But the false contractual claim is far from the only tall tale ERM told.

Independent Air Studies, Citizen Anecdotes Fly in Face of ERM Study

study released by Delaware City Environmental Coalition in late May, just weeks before ERM's study was released, diametrically opposed the conclusions of ERM Group's refinery-funded effort. 

"Air-quality tests commissioned by a Delaware City citizens group show a jump in local chemical, soot and sulfur levels after the opening of the Delaware City refinery, with at least three toxic pollutants exceeding some public health limits in one spot a mile from the plant," explained the News Journal

Beyond the study itself, many individuals have anecdotes about how the refinery has impacted their lives, and how their quality of life was better before the plant reopened in 2011, when PBF Energy purchased the refinery from Valero for $220 million after it stood idle for a full year.

"I can tell you that the year the plant was shuttered, I did not suffer from my normal seasonal sinus condition in the same manner that I have both before and after," Delaware City resident Kristina Lynn told DeSmogBlog in an interview.

"While it is a seasonal allergy that causes my pain, it was nearly absent that year. The town was quiet, no smells, even the sky looked bluer. No rumblings, it was so quiet at night I could hear a horse neigh on a farm a half mile away. I had never heard that before."

Barbara Elizabeth Johnson, who also lives in Delaware City, shared a similar story, saying, "Air quality is the issue that has affected me the most. My asthma has worsened as have my allergies. The medicines don't even work all the time now, and I regularly have attacks that cause me to pass out completely for a few seconds. I can't go outside much unless I sit very still while I am out there and don't try to walk around too much."

There are also videos and photos of smoke and waste flaring that appear to be anything but what ERM describes as "clean." Case in point, the video below:

The plant has received 53 Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control violation notices, and been penalized 10 times, since 201

An attendee of ERM's public meeting on its refinery-funded air study claims that the company's study had one purpose: to manufacture doubt about the independent air study.

"The refinery manager and ERM engineer who gave the presentation at the first public meeting both made it very clear that their only reason for doing the study was to discredit the Delaware City Environmental Coalition study," said Stephanie Herron, volunteer and outreach coordinator for Delaware Sierra Club. "They repeatedly emphasized their implied conclusion that not only was the other study wrong and the air totally safe, but that it's actually even cleaner than many other places in Delaware and Delaware City in the past. They said they would not be doing any further studies since this one was so conclusive that there was no reason to."

Will History Repeat Itself With Keystone XL?

ERM has a penchant for declaring that ecologically destructive projects will be, or are, "clean," as DeSmogBlog has written about in the cases of the Caspian Sea and Peru.

Many scientists have already weighed in on the climate change and ecological impacts of tar sands production, as well as the ecological impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline itself. Those scientists have come to starkly different conclusions than ERM Group did on its State Department environmental review.

Is more of the same in store for Keystone XL's northern half? Will it become another Caspian Sea, Peru, or Delaware City Refinery?

An earlier version of this article appeared on DeSmogBlog. Photos courtesy of Delaware Sierra Club.