ACTION: Help protect air quality in northwest Iowa

An oil refinery proposed for a South Dakota site near Sioux City poses a threat to air quality in northwest Iowa, I recently learned from Dr. Jim Redmond, chair of the Sierra Club’s Northwest Iowa Group. The Hyperion Energy Center would be the sixth-largest oil refinery in the country. It would emit large quantities of several pollutants, including particulate matter 2.5, which is hazardous to human health.

The South Dakota Department of Natural Resources (DENR) and the South Dakota Board of Minerals and Environment have issued a preconstruction air permit to the Hyperion Energy Center. Unfortunately, the permit omits relevant information. For instance, instead of using five years of data on ambient air conditions in Sioux Falls and Sioux City, only one year of information for Sioux Falls was used. The environmental impact on Sioux City (25 miles downwind from the proposed facility) will certainly be greater than on Sioux Falls (50 miles upwind).

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) criticized the draft air permit for the Hyperion project, but South Dakota’s DENR did not incorporate their suggestions.

Because the Hyperion project will adversely affect air quality in and around Sioux City, Iowans should contact the EPA administrator in Region 7 (containing Iowa). South Dakota lies in the EPA’s Region 8.

Redmond sent me extensive background information on this matter and sample letters to the EPA, which I’ve posted after the jump.

Sample letter provided by Dr. Jim Redmond (posted with permission):

Callie A. Videtich, Director

Air and Radiation Program

US RPA Region 8-80C-EISC

1595 Wynkoop Street

Denver, Colorado 80202-1129

                               Duplicates should be sent to

Lisa Jackson, Administrator

US Environmental Protection Agency

Ariel Rios Building

1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.Washington, DC 20460

Director Videtich,

I ask your department to intervene in the permitting process for a refinery in Union County in South Dakota.

The EPA should overturn the South Dakota Department of Natural Resources (DENR) and the South Dakota Board of Minerals and Environment decision to issue a preconstruction air permit to the Hyperion Energy Center, a proposed $10 billion refinery.  An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) needs to be assembled for the Hyperion project before any construction begins.

Despite EPA’s detailed criticisms of the Hyperion’s draft Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) Air Permit, the DENR issued the flawed permit.  Few changes were made. The South Dakota Board of Minerals and Environment approved the permit unanimously with little discussion even though numerous flaws and omissions were obvious.    

The major reason for overturning these permit decisions is that the applicants ignored substantial data about the impact of the huge refinery on the quality of air in Sioux City and Woodbury County, Iowa.  By using a single year’s data from a site upwind and twice the distance from the proposed site, Hyperion did not demonstrate compliance with National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

As the country weighs the best strategy for dealing with greenhouse gases, the proposed refinery made great claims in the press about this “clean and green” facility.  However, in testimony before the South Dakota Board of Minerals and the Environment, the applicant had to admit that this refinery would be emitting carbon dioxide at a rate 30% higher than other refineries in the country because they are processing bitumen, tar sands.  

Please intervene to protect the citizens of Siouxland and South Dakota.

If you’re concerned about the Hyperion oil refinery, you can help by sending a short letter to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asking that they intervene in the air quality permit process.  

Please ask the EPA to overturn the South Dakota Department of Natural Resources (DENR) and the South Dakota Board of Minerals and Environment decision to issue a preconstruction air permit to the Hyperion Energy Center (HEC).  Also, ask EPA to require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) be assembled for the Hyperion project.

Despite EPA’s detailed criticisms of the Hyperion’s draft Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) Air Permit, the DENR issued the flawed permit.  Few changes were made. The South Dakota Board of Minerals and Environment approved the permit unanimously with little discussion even though numerous flaws and omissions were obvious.    

Your letter need not be more than 3-4 paragraphs long. Please sign and make sure your name and address is included. If possible, please save a copy of your letter and send it by email to Jim Redmond at Jim.Redmond@briarcliff.edu

Your letters should be written to the following:

Callie A. Videtich, Director

Air and Radiation Program

US RPA Region 8-80C-EISC

1595 Wynkoop Street

Denver, Colorado 80202-1129

                               Duplicates should be sent to

Lisa Jackson, Administrator

US Environmental Protection Agency

Ariel Rios Building

1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Washington, DC 20460

Deficiencies and omissions of the preconstruction permit issued for the Hyperion project:

Remember that this proposed refinery will release 19 million tons of carbon dioxide a year along with many tons of carcinogens.   Read the synopsis and pick out one or several points and contact EPA, asking that they intervene based on your concerns.

1. There are many omissions and deficiencies in the permit relative to the Best Available Control Technologies (BACT).  BACT is mandated by the U.S. Clean Air Act. To determine a BACT a permit must show that a specific technology is selected after considering the types and sources of emission, regional environmental impact, and cost.  Hyperions’s refinery will be a polluting source that falls under the EPA standard for New Source Review guidelines.  The EPA was very critical of the BACT analyses in Hyperion’s draft air permit and few changes were made by the DENR.  

2.  Hyperion did not demonstrate compliance with National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). NAAQS requires the EPA to set standards for six criteria air contaminants: ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, lead and particulate matter.  There are two classes of particulate matter. PM10 are coarse particles 10 micrometers to 2.5 in diameter.  PM2.5 are fine particles and are 2.5 or less.  Huge polluting sources must have background analyses of the NAAQS to make certain the new source will not exceed quantities obviously detrimental to health. New source quantities + background = projected post construction quantities.  

Strangely, the background data used was from Sioux Falls, more than 50 miles to the north, rather than Sioux City, about 25 miles away.  Sioux City has much higher background levels of PM2.5 than Sioux Falls. Had Sioux City been used the background added to the new emission source would almost certainly have exceeded the NAAQS for 24 hour emissions.

Sioux City also shares the same wind patterns as the Hyperion Energy Center.  In the winter both have a predominant prevailing wind out of the northwest and in the summer the predominant wind is from the southeast.  Both the seasonal wind directions and velocities are somewhat different in Sioux Falls.   For both the Hyperion Energy Center and Sioux City the Missouri River valley channels the wind.

While Hyperion recommended using Sioux City ambient data in its modeling protocol, the DENR wanted Sioux Falls. Although both cities had five years of data, the DENR selected only one of the lower years for Sioux Falls rather than averaging for five years.  

Five years of data should have been used for both cities, or very good explanations for ignoring both the location and the power of averaging should have been provided.  It was not.

3. Key elements required of a Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) were not presented in the permit. There was no plan for dust suppression during construction.  There was no flare minimization plan, no Startup, Shutdown and Malfunction plan.  The public did not see a BACT analysis for CO2 in time to comment on it, even though this refinery will emit more CO2 per refined barrel than any existing refinery in the United States.  Methane and other greenhouse gas emissions were not quantified in the permit.

4. The Board should have required an Environmental Impact Study before issuing a preconstruction air permit. This would be the largest and most polluting single industrial unit ever constructed in South Dakota.  Citizens in the region should have a comprehensive view of the impact on health and the environment prior to the DENR issuing a preconstruction permit based only on air emissions.  The Hyperion plant will use at least 10 million gallons of water each day, and it will be pumped from a shoreline aquifer along the Missouri River, north of Sioux City. That water will be returned to the river in an unknown condition.

Among the many environmental effects not analyzed are the social and economic impacts of the 4,500 construction workers housed in a temporary work camp. There will be noise and odors that will be detected but not disclosed prior to their arrival.

The regional impact of construction activities and operation are unknown to the public.  Local government can’t plan for law enforcement, energy, sewage, and traffic and health issues when there is no impact analysis.

Another sample letter:

William Rice, Administrator

US EPA Region 7

Air Quality Permitting

901 N. 5th Street

Kansas City, KS 66101

This is an urgent request for the Environmental Protection Agency to intervene in the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) permit for the proposed Hyperion Energy Center in Union County, South Dakota.  While the site is in Region VIII, it is very close to Sioux City, Iowa.  The population in Region VII will bear the brunt of air quality deterioration. It is urgent for you to confer with Region VIII staff and form a joint plan to insist on a reasonable permit.

The South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has absolutely no experience with oil refineries.  Hyperion, the refinery developer, has never built or managed a refinery.  The permit was written by RTP Environmental Associates and they have never built or operated an oil refinery.  

Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources chose not to intervene or comment on another state’s permitting process.  South Dakota’s DENR received legislative money to hire experts for the permit but they chose not to engage consultants; however, in their request they admitted they had no one with experience.  EPA Region VIII made many negative comments concerning the permit but the SDDENR elected to make very few changes in the draft permit.  The National Park Service had many negative comments, but they were also ignored.

During the state’s Board of Minerals and Environment hearings in Pierre, RTP experts admitted the “green refinery” would emit more carbon dioxide/barrel than any existing refinery in the United States.  They do not intend to sequester carbon from their pet coke and coal consuming Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle power plant.  The plant will emit about 10 million tons/year and the refinery nearly another 10 million.

The hearings in Pierre will end on August 20.  The transcript thus far bodes ill for Sioux City, particularly for Particulate Matter (2.5).  The background monitoring site selected was in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, over 50 miles from the proposed site.  Sioux City has a site with over five years of data that is only 25 miles away. The Sioux City monitoring site is in the Missouri River Valley and so is the proposed Hyperion refinery site.  The Missouri River Valley channels the air between the two locations.  Meteorological data from the Sioux Falls airport was used. The wind directions and velocities are similar at Sioux City and the Hyperion site; Sioux Falls is very different.  David Keen, the air modeler for RTP had been told by a national air modeling expert to use Sioux City data but the SD DENR insisted he use Sioux Falls.  The DENR used only one year of Sioux Falls data for background, 2006, one of the lowest on record. They ignored the other four years and the power of averaging.  There is no way to sugar coat it: serious errors have been made and the air modeling data is useless. Peter Drivas, Sierra Club expert witness, testified that if the modeling had been correctly implemented it probably would show both Sioux City and Sioux Falls will not be in attainment once the refinery begins operation. It is time for the EPA to consider drastic action.  Perhaps the SD State Implemented Permitting agreement with the EPA should be eliminated.

Since the SD DENR refused to require an Environmental Impact Study many environmental parameters will not be available for public comment. We, in Sioux City, appeal to Region VII staff to become involved. The air permit should be put on hold and an Environmental Impact Study be undertaken.

Dr. Jim Redmond

Chair, Northwest Iowa Group of the Sierra Club

712-258-8303

Jim.redmond@briarcliff.edu

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