Delaware City refinery draws huge crowd for public hearing

It was a showdown between plant workers and environmental activists during a hearing Tuesday over a crucial permit for the Delaware City Oil Refinery.

The oil refinery is due for its Title V permit in order to comply with the EPA’s Clean Air Act. The operating permit bundles all of the refinery’s permits and has to be reviewed every five years.

Herman Seedorf, refinery manager for Delaware City explained that opponents of the Title V permit claim that the plant wants to increase air emission limits to process tar sands, a heavy crude carted into Delaware from Canada and the northwest United States. 

While the plant is processing tar sands, they don’t produce higher emissions to do it, according to Seedorf.

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“We don’t need any different equipment and we don’t need any higher emissions to process it,” said Seedorf, who added that emissions from the plant have been consistently going down every year.

Hundreds of refinery workers turned out for a refinery rally at the plant prior to the hearing to show support for the plant and the jobs they’ve been able to obtain since the refinery reopened its doors two years ago.  

“By your presence here today you’re speaking loudly to the leaders of Delaware about what’s important to you—jobs and family,” said Seedorf to the nearly 1,000 in attendance.

Following the rally, refinery supporters were bussed over to the Delaware City Fire Department for the public hearing. Nearly 100 police officers stood between the two groups as they filed into the building.

Overall, it was a peaceful meeting with dozens providing of testimony to DNREC from both sides.  

Activists and many residents talked about how they want more transparency from their corporate neighbor regarding emissions.

Amy Roe of the Delaware Sierra Club said they don’t want the plant to shut down or have its permit taken away.

“What we are asking for and what we have always asked for is that the Delaware City Refinery obey the law,” said Roe. “That DNREC obeys the law in its regulation and enforcement of air pollution rules.”

Mike Karlovich, vice president of communication for PBF, the parent company of the refinery, said the plant already takes the necessary steps to comply with regulations.

“We’ve already reduced emissions from the refinery,” said Karlovich. “We’ve shut down some equipment, we’ve changed one of our units into natural gas fired plant.”  

Other concerned citizens brought up the issue that they don’t hear about problems or potentially hazardous incidents that happen at the plant until days or even months after the occurrence.  

Although the refinery does have an email alert system, residents said it’s insufficient and requested a better emergency notification system be put in place.

Another request was for a publicly accessible a real-time emission monitoring system and clear-cut emergency management plans.   

Supporters of the refinery talked about the positive steps the plant has taken to operate in a clean and efficient manner.  

“I’ve worked at the refinery for more than 20 years.  I am a first-hand witness of the positive changes that have taken place with the new owners,” said Dave Champiney, refinery employee. “We as employees have always done our best to operate safely and environmentally conscious. The owners support this philosophy as a value.”

DNREC will accept written public comments for the next 30 days before taking any further steps.

In the meantime, the refinery will continue to operate as usual, and Karlovich said they’re currently hiring and have upgrade projects scheduled for the near future.

“Later this year, we’re going to do a major project, that will bring in another 850 trades into the plant to do some repairs,” he said. 

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