Video: Big West Refinery Bombs Salt Lake Airshed With Saturday Afternoon Bypass

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(EnviroNews Utah) — North Salt Lake City, Utah — It’s certainly not the first time, and it very likely won’t be the last. For the umpteenth time, on Saturday, January 28, 2017, the antiquated Big West oil refinery in North Salt Lake City, Utah, spewed toxic black smoke high into the airshed above the Salt Lake Valley — this, in an area that harbors the most dangerous air pollution in the United States during winter months. The bypass event was noticed by an EnviroNews Utah correspondent at around 3:55 p.m. and was still underway at 4:20 p.m. when they drove out of range. [Editor’s Note: When this story was originally published, Chevron was named as the company that had the bypass. EnviroNews Utah apologizes for any inconvenience this may have caused.]

Since the episode happened on the weekend, when the doors of governmental regulatory agencies are closed, it is not known by EnviroNews Utah at this hour whether Big West notified the Utah Division of Air Quality (DAQ) to tell on itself, as is required by law. In watching Salt Lake’s refineries for years, it has been the observation of EnviroNews Utah that a disproportionately high number of bypass events happen either on the weekend, or after 5 p.m.; outside the typical operating hours of DAQ employees.

Interestingly, events like these, typically don’t cost the culprit industrial enterprise a dime — at least as long as it is caused by “an act of God.” Those words don’t come from EnviroNews, they come directly from DAQ officers, and what they mean is, if the event is the result of a power bump, power outage, unforeseeable equipment failure or myriad other things, the operator is not punished at all. Only in the event of negligence or operator error is the business issued a Notice of Violation (NOV) carrying, usually at worst, a monetary fine.

Utah is plagued by a unique air pollution crisis — different than what is experienced by residents in most other large metropolitan areas: wintertime temperature inversions. When inversion conditions are present, the stagnant cold air sinks and presses down against the valley floor, trapping particulate pollution into a soup-like fog, and trapping Utah’s residents in an unescapable air pollution crisis.

The conditions are not only inconvenient and unenjoyable, they are downright deadly. The Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment (UPHE), a group of over 500 Utah doctors, has repeatedly reiterated that Utah’s hampering air results in massive spikes in heart attacks, strokes, asthma attacks, emergency room visits and deaths. The group has also estimated Utah’s air problem costs residents over $1 billion a year in air-pollution-related medical expenses — a massive externality that has had citizens and environmental groups up in arms for years.

Critics of the Beehive State’s policies say when the inversions happen, the State asks residents to carpool, take public transit, not burn wood in their stoves, and reduce freeway driving speeds to 55 miles-per-hour — while at the same time, nobody asks Utah’s polluting businesses to slow down at all under the dangerous conditions.

Utah’s notoriously pro-industry Governor Gary Herbert has even gone on the record with EnviroNews Utah saying businesses have been the ones that have cleaned up Utah’s air the most — a position not agreed with by most of Utah’s citizens — many of who frequently compromise their quality of life in an effort to do their part in cleaning up Utah’s deadly air.

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Chevron Refinery Burnoff — 1/28/17

Chevron Refinery Burnoff — 1/28/17


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Video: Big West Refinery Bombs Salt Lake Airshed With Saturday Afternoon Bypass

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