Plans to build an oil refinery in Maricopa County were scrapped Thursday amid questions about its impact on the fast-growing region’s environment.
Arizona Clean Fuels now will build the facility in Yuma County, which offers vast tracts of desert far from inhabited areas.
“We couldn’t be more pleased,” said Scott Meyer, vice president of the environmental group Don’t Waste Arizona. “We’re real happy to see it’s going to Yuma.”
“It’s probably the best move we could have made,” company spokesman Ian Calkins said.
And Steve Owens, director of the state Department of Environmental Quality, said, “Going to Yuma makes a lot of sense.”
The project has been on the drawing board for years but made headlines in August as the Valley dealt with a crippling gasoline shortage after an aging pipeline ruptured near Tucson.
It would convert crude oil — delivered via pipeline from Mexico — into 7 million gallons of refined fuel a day, a bit more than half the state’s current demand of 13 million gallons a day. Total cost of the project, including pipelines, Mexican port facilities and the refinery itself, is estimated at $2.5 billion.
John Greenbank, managing director of Arizona Clean Fuels, told the Tribune in August that the plant would emit some pollutants, but its products would be so clean the overall air pollution in Maricopa County would go down.
But the plant ran afoul of concerns over potential ozone emissions. Maricopa County is likely to be deemed an ozone nonattainment area next April, meaning the region produces unhealthy amounts of the pollutant. Ozone is believed to damage lung tissue, aggravate respiratory disease and increase the risk of respiratory infection.
Calkins said the company had been confident its site southwest of the Valley would be approved. But he said, “If at some point in the future we wanted to expand that facility to meet increased demand or install different emissions control devices — any change in that facility would require so many variables it led to the business decision that we not go there.”
Owens said Arizona Clean Fuels was making good progress toward a permit, but new ozone rules might have delayed final approval and certainly would have complicated any future changes in the refinery.
Most of the technical work on the permit application can be applied to the new site, Owens said, and he expects the application now “could be moved along fairly expeditiously.” The company hasn’t decided what to do with its Maricopa County land, which Calkins said is ideal for other industrial uses. While it hasn’t settled on an exact site in Yuma County, it hopes to have that done quickly so its state permit application won’t lapse.
Calkins said moving the site probably won’t greatly delay the project. He hopes for state approval by the end of this year or early 2004, with federal approval in the second quarter of 2004 after a period of public comment.
Yuma County will offer proximity to Interstate 8 and rail lines, Calkins said, and a refinery there will need a much shorter crude-oil pipeline than the original site.
Meyer said Don’t Waste Arizona won’t challenge the Yuma site unless someone there seeks the group’s help.
“We’re glad to see the state has come to its senses and the refinery company has come to its senses,” he said. Regardless of how technologically advanced the refinery might be, Meyer said it still would have produced pollution and “it would have economically devastated Mobile,” a small community near the original site.
Calkins said the refinery will bolster Yuma County’s economy, which relies mostly on farming and the military.