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Crude oil produced in Utah and surrounding states is refined in the Salt Lake area to produce products we use every day in our own lives. Utah has five petroleum refineries with a combined daily processing capability of about 210,000 barrels of oil. Combined they manufacture enough fuels to keep Utah moving and help sustain our way of life.

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The Refining Process

Refineries process crude oil into many different petroleum products. These products include gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, and asphalt. How does this transformation take place? Essentially, refining breaks crude oil down into its various components, which are then selectively reconfigured into new products. All refineries perform three basic steps:

  • Separation
  • Conversion
  • Treatment

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Heavy petroleum components or fractions are on the bottom; light fractions are on the top. This difference in weights allows for the separation of the various petrochemicals. Modern separation involves piping oil through hot furnaces. The resulting liquids and vapors are discharged into distillation units.

Inside the distillation units, the liquids and vapors separate into fractions according to their weight and boiling point. The lightest fractions, including gasoline and liquid petroleum gas (LPG), vaporize and rise to the top of the tower, where they condense back to liquids. Medium weight liquids, including kerosene and diesel oil distillates, stay in the middle of the tower. Heavier liquids, called gas oils, separate lower down, while the heaviest fractions with the highest boiling points settle at the bottom of the tower.

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Cracking and rearranging molecules takes a heavy, low-valued feedstock and changes it into a lighter, higher-valued output such as gasoline. This is where fractions from the distillation units are transformed into streams (intermediate components) that eventually become finished products.

The most widely used conversion method is called cracking because it uses heat and pressure to crack heavy hydrocarbon molecules into lighter ones. A cracking unit consists of one or more tall, thick-walled, bullet-shaped reactors and a network of furnaces, heat exchangers, and other vessels.

Cracking is not the only form of crude oil conversion. Other refinery processes rearrange molecules to add value rather than splitting molecules. Alkylation, for example, makes gasoline components by combining some of the gaseous byproducts of cracking. The process, which essentially is cracking in reverse, takes place in a series of large, horizontal vessels and tall, skinny towers. Reforming uses heat, moderate pressure, and catalysts to turn naphtha, a light, relatively low-value fraction, into high-octane gasoline components.

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The finishing touches occur during the final treatment. To make gasoline, refinery technicians carefully combine a variety of streams from the processing units. Octane level, vapor pressure ratings, and other special considerations, determine the blend.

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About Utah's Petroleum Refineries

Utah is home to five petroleum refineries located in Salt Lake and Davis Counties. These refineries include Big West Oil, Chevron, HollyFrontier, Silver Eagle Refining and Andeavor. While relatively small by national standards, Utah's refineries are an integral part of the lives we live in Utah. The products they produce drive commerce and allow us to move around the State with our families and in our businesses.

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Safety First

Our first priority, as an industry, is the safety of our employees and neighbors in the communities where we operate. Our Safety Commitment is:

  • Do it safely or not at all;
  • There is always time to do it right; and
  • We operate at the pleasure of the community

Environmental Stewardship

It’s challenging to operate major industrial facilities in the heart of a large and growing metropolitan area. When Utah’s refineries were built in the early part of the 20th century, they were well “out of town” and away from the hustle and bustle of people’s lives. Not so today. Recognizing that, we’re especially sensitive to the responsibility placed upon us to be good stewards of the environment. After safety, it’s our top priority.

New technologies and major capital investments have allowed Utah’s refineries to significantly reduce emissions over the past several years. In fact, Utah refineries invested $1.2 billion between 2006 and 2014. This investment in new environmental equipment resulted in reduced emissions and enabled processing of low sulfur crude.

  • $314 million led to cleaner, low sulfur fuel
  • $892 million reduced the emissions from the refineries
These investments have paid off through significant reductions in emissions. Since 2006, Utah’s refinery emissions have been reduced as follows:
  • NOx down 55%
  • SO2 down 71%
  • PM2.5 down 26%
  • VOCs down 19%

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How many refineries are in Utah?

    There are five refineries, located in Salt Lake City and Davis County.

  • Where are they located?

    Salt Lake County:
    Tesoro (Salt Lake City)

    Davis County:
    Holly Frontier (West Bountiful)
    Chevron (South Davis County)
    Big West (North Salt Lake)
    Silver Eagle (Woods Cross)

  • When were they built?

    The first refinery in Utah was built in 1908 and is now known as Tesoro. The others were built between 65 and 80 years ago.

    HollyFrontier (1932)
    Chevron (1948)
    Big West Oil (1949)
    SilverEagle Refining (1954)

    Source: http://www.utahrails.net/industries/oil.php

  • What do they produce?

    The refineries convert crude oil into gasoline, low sulfur diesel fuel, jet fuel, heavy fuel oils, liquefied petroleum gas, and wax products. Much of the crude they refine comes from the Uintah Basin, which provides low sulfur crude. Other sources include, but are not limited to, Colorado and Wyoming and Canada.

    Source: The Utah Petroleum Association Fact Sheet

  • Why are they located near a major metropolitan community?

    The major north-south rail lines were a key driver in the initial siting of the refineries in northern Salt Lake and southern Davis counties. While the refineries continue to utilize the rail lines, an extensive network of pipelines intersecting in northern Salt Lake and southern Davis counties along with tanker truckers access to I-15 and I-80 are critical to transporting crude oil and refined products.

  • Can the refineries be moved away from the population?

    Simply put, no. The cost is too prohibitive. Refineries require access to interstate and intrastate pipelines, rail and interstate highways. Consequently in addition to building the refineries at a new location, the transportation infrastructure would need to be replaced.

    The refineries would also need to obtain permits to build facilities at a new location. A major refinery has not been permitted in the United States in almost 40 years. While smaller refineries have been permitted in recent years, the last major complex refinery was permitted in 1977 and that was in Louisiana.

  • Are Utah’s refineries considered large or small?

    Utah refineries are considered small. Especially when you compare them to the largest ones. For example, the largest refinery in the United States is located in Port Arthur, Texas. The Motiva Port Arthur Refinery has the capacity to handle 600,250 barrels a day. The second largest is owned by Exxon Mobil and is located in Baytown, Texas and they handle 560,500 barrels a day.

    All together, Utah’s five refineries are capable of producing 209,100 barrels a day.

    Tesoro - 63,000 barrels/day
    Chevron - 56,000 barrels/day
    HollyFrontier - 41,400 barrels/day
    Big West Oil - 33,000 barrels/day
    SilverEagle Refining - 15,700 barrels/day

    Source: http://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/index.cfm?page=oil_refining#tab4

  • Are refineries safe?

    The safety of its employees is critical to Utah’s refineries, as the employees are their most valued assets. When you compare facts from the Bureau of Labor Statistics it’s easy to see how safe refineries are compared to jobs in the food manufacturing, agriculture, or professional and business services.

    Safety is the highest priority for the refining industry, and their safety record is concrete evidence of its commitment to continuously improving its performance.  They have reduced its injury and illness rate by 66% since 2001, and it remains 87% lower than the average rate across all manufacturing sectors.  

    We understand that nothing is more important than the safety and wellbeing of our employees, our neighbors, our communities and our environment.

    Source: http://www.afpm.org/Refinery_Safety_at_a_Glance/

  • Where would I find emissions data from various sources in Utah?

    Emissions from the refineries are part of a category called point sources. Point source emissions data, as well data for other emissions sources such as area, mobile, and non-road emissions, are available at: http://www.airquality.utah.gov/Pollutants/ParticulateMatter/PM25/presentations/index.html

  • What percent of overall emissions can be directly attributed to the refining process?

    On a typical winter day in 2014, refineries contributed 3% of combined NOX, SOX, VOC, and direct PM2.5 emissions in Utah, Salt Lake, Davis and Weber counties.

    NOX - 2%
    SOX - 36%
    PM2.5 - 3%
    VOC - 2%

    Source: Utah Division of Air Quality

  • What is SOX and why do refineries emit a higher percentage of this pollutant?

    Sulfur oxides (SOX) are compounds of sulfur and oxygen molecules. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is the pre- dominant form found in the lower atmosphere. SOX is important when counting emissions because it plays a role in sulfate and, ultimately, secondary PM2.5 formation (the wintertime pollution problem).

    Refineries emit a larger fraction of total SOX emissions because they deal with significant amounts of sulfur in the refining process. However, the refineries have reduced their SOX emissions significantly over the last 10 years. In fact, all Utah refineries have controls beyond just the minimum requirements. All have tail gas units as an additional level of control, use low-SOX catalyst, and all have, or are in the process of installing, a fourth level of control.

    Source: Utah Division of Air Quality

  • What actions have the refineries taken to improve Utah’s air quality?

    From 2006 through 2013, Utah refineries invested over $900 million to reduce emissions and to produce cleaner burning fuels, reducing sulfur content to levels lower than Environmental Protection Agency requirements. These investments resulted in the following reductions in emissions:

    52% decrease in NOx
    62% decrease in SOx
    26% decrease in PM2.5
    14% decrease in VOC

    The emissions “pie” has gotten smaller over the past decade or so in regards to the emissions from mobile sources. This is due in large part to the clean fuels created by the refineries.

    Source: Utah Petroleum Association Fact Sheet

  • What is that white smoke coming out of the refineries?

    It is not smoke. What you see is water vapor. The process used to convert crude oil into refined products utilizes significant heat. Water is used to cool refinery equipment. Once heat has been transferred from the equipment to the water, the water is circulated through a cooling tower. The end result is a plume of water vapor.

    Source: http://www.chevron.com

  • What is that smell when I drive by the refineries between Salt Lake City and North Salt Lake?

    The process of refining oil can be a smelly business. Refiners start with a raw material called “crude oil” and convert it into products that we use every day, such as gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. Part of the process in refining involves removing the impurities in order to create a cleaner burning fuel. Some of these impurities give off unpleasant odors. But more importantly, the refining process takes out the odors so they won’t be emitted from your own vehicle.

    If you smell sulfur, it’s more than likely the Wasatch Warm Springs that are located in northern Salt Lake City along the Beck Street area. In fact, back when the pioneers were arriving, this was a known swimming hole. A resort was created in the 1850’s called Beck’s Hot Springs. Just like when you visit Yellowstone National Park and smell the “rotting egg” bubbling water or mud, it comes from the sulfur that is naturally created due to our geological location.

    However, below is a list of potential odors and what they originate from.
    • Rotten eggs (Hydrogen Sulfide)
    • Burnt matches (Sulfur Dioxide)
    • Natural gas leak (Mercaptan)
    • Window cleaner (Ammonia)
    • Asphalt or tar (Petroleum Coke)

    Each refinery has a program to eliminate off-site odors. If you smell something like the ones listed above, please contact the refinery you believe is associated with that smell. Below are their numbers.

    Tesoro (801) 606-2200
    Chevron (801) 539-7335
    Holly (801) 560-5511
    Big West (801) 296-7700
    Silver Eagle (801) 298-3211

    Other smells in the area include asphalt plants and the Salt Lake sewage treatment facility.

    Source: http://geoheat.oit.edu/bulletin/bull25-4/art3.pdf

  • Why is there a flame burning on the top of refinery equipment?

    It is a gas flare. The flare is a pressure safety relief device used throughout the petroleum industry. It is used to ensure that equipment does not exceed the limits set for maintaining the safety and integrity of a process unit.

    The flare’s function is to eliminate this excess process gas by burning it off rather than venting potentially damaging hydrocarbons to the atmosphere. Similar to a pilot light on a furnace, a small amount of gas is burned on a continuous basis to ensure the flare functions when needed.

    Some refineries already have flare recovery systems in place. Others are in the process of installing them. These systems recover the gas, send it to the flare and then burn it in heaters and boilers after it has been treated. These systems will be operational as soon as November of 2015.

    Source: http://www.chevron.com

  • Are the refineries currently in compliance with all state and federal environmental regulations?

    Yes. All Utah refineries operate in a manner to be in compliance with all state and federal regulations. The refining industry is one of the most highly regulated in the country. They are regulated through numerous federal and state agencies.

    The federal government regulates them through the Environmental Protection Agency and OSHA, as well as several federal acts.

    The state regulates them through the Department of Environmental Quality, the Division of Air Quality, the Department of Natural Resources, the Division of Water Quality, and Utah Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

    Source: The Utah Petroleum Association

  • Are the refineries operating when air quality is poor?

    The refineries operate on a 24-hour 7-days a week basis and are only down when maintenance work is being conducted or when there is an unplanned maintenance issue. Halting production on days when emissions exceed EPA’s standards would adversely impact the equipment, including equipment installed to limit emission and could result in an increase in emissions as the refineries return to full production.

    Simply, refinery emissions are at their highest during start ups and shutdowns, therefore it is better for air quality to maintain constant, stable operations. Some units require 2 to 5 days to safely restart making it infeasible to operate only on good air quality days.

    Source: The Utah Petroleum Association

  • Is better pollution control technology available but the refineries just choose not to use it?

    In the past 10 years, the refiners have installed over $800 million in new equipment to reduce emissions. The refineries comply with state and federal requirements governing the equipment they use, which is highly regulated, and technology specific. State and federal regulations approving specific technologies can take a long time to get adopted, and use of unapproved technology prior to such approval could result in the companies being deemed “non-compliant,” even if the equipment resulted in a reduction of emissions that is equivalent to, or better than, approved technologies. Understandably, companies are hesitant to make expensive investments in unapproved technologies. In short, the current approach to regulating emissions makes investments prior to final rulings by the regulators extremely risky.

    Once a regulation, rule or requirement is finalized the refineries make the changes necessary to ensure compliance. This can be a lengthy process as the refineries complete the necessary engineering studies and designs, procure the equipment and labor, and make the final changes to their operations.

    Additionally, as stated before, some of the refineries have been in place for decades, which means some of their equipment may be grandfathered under prior rules. If modifications of these pieces of equipment are required, the appropriate regulatory authorities review the grandfathered clause.

    Source: The Petroleum Association & Members

  • What is Tier 3 fuel?

    Over the past decade beginning in 2004, all refineries were required to produce Tier 2 fuel, thereby having the refiners cut sulfur levels in gasoline by 90%, from an average of 300 parts per million (ppm) to an average of 30 ppm. Utah refineries have invested in producing cleaner burning fuels and as a result are currently producing gasoline with sulfur content on average below the 30 ppm Tier 2 requirement. As a result of the investment by refineries to produce Tier 2 fuels, along with the incremental conversion of vehicles to newer Tier 2 vehicles, emissions from mobile sources decreased by approximately 18,000 tons annually between 2008 and 2014.

    Pasted Graphic
    The new Tier 3 standard further reduces sulfur content of gasoline from 30ppm to 10ppm. Utah will benefit from Tier 3 fuels because the fuel alone will reduce the air pollution from existing gasoline-powered vehicles by 14-15%. As with the introduction of Tier 2 gasoline, the majority of the benefits will result when Utahns replace older vehicles with newer vehicles containing the Tier 3 technology.

    Another key component to Tier 3 fuels is understanding the timeline for the refineries to actually be able to produce the low emission fuels. Major engineering studies are required. Key equipment required to produce the fuels will be actively sought, with the large refineries receiving the priority.

    Source: Utah Division of Air Quality
    Utah Petroleum Association Fact Sheet
    Wasatch Front Regional Council

  • Will the refineries be producing Tier 3 fuel in 2017 as the Governor requested?

    When each refinery met with the Governor the discussion centered on whether the refineries would consider producing Tier 3 fuels earlier than required by the EPA (2020). Refiners are currently investing millions of dollars in studies and engineering in an effort to identify the costs associated with transitioning to Tier 3 fuels. A decision regarding whether the investment will be made to produce Tier 3 fuels in Utah or use the Averaging, Banking and Trading (ABT) program cannot be made until this work is complete.

    Refineries producing Tier 3 fuels prior to the required deadlines can generate credits that may be banked, sold or traded. The market for these credits is uncertain.

    Source: Utah Petroleum Association Fact Sheet

  • What benefit would Utah receive if the refineries began producing Tier 3 fuels?

    Tier 3 gasoline will reduce emissions of existing gasoline-powered vehicles by 14% - 15%. However, Utah will only fully realize the benefits of Tier 3 fuels once all current cars and trucks are retired and Tier 3 automobiles become the standard. That transition will result in a 70-80% reduction in emissions from the average gasoline-powered vehicle. In other words, to clear Utah’s air, it is a joint effort made by all of us, the producers of the gasoline, the people who buy cars, and the ones that drive them.

    Source: U.S. EPA (http://www.epa.gov/oms/documents/tier3/420r14005.pdf)

  • Do Utah refineries produce all of the gasoline, diesel and refined petroleum products used by Utah residents and businesses?

    No. Utah does not use all of the crude refined in the state. The refineries receive crude from the Uintah Basin as well as neighboring states, via pipelines. Once the crude is refined, the products are distributed throughout Utah and as well as Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

    “Utah’s refined petroleum production increased to 71 million barrels in 2014, a new all-time high,” according to the 2015 Economic Report to the Governor. “As demand increases with the growing economy, Utah’s total petroleum product consumption is estimated to increase for the second straight year to 55.1 million barrels.” Additionally, Utah refineries exported approximately 27 million barrels in 2014.

    Source: 2015 Economic Report to the Governor

  • Do the refineries produce any products that are used by the Salt Lake International Airport or the military?

    Yes, two refineries produce the majority, if not all, of the jet fuel used at the Salt Lake International Airport, the regional airports in Utah and Idaho, as well as the military bases, in Utah and Idaho.

  • Do the refineries get crude from producers in Utah? If so, what percent of Utah’s total production is processed at Utah refineries?

    Yes. Utah refineries invested over $300 million in their facilities from 2006 through 2008 to enable the processing of the paraffin rich low sulfur crude oil produced in the Utah basin. The investments helped to support the doubling of Utah crude oil production and dramatically reduced oil imports. Today Utah crude oil producers only export 8.4 million barrels.

    Source: Utah Petroleum Association
    2015 Utah Economic Report to the Governor

  • What are the economic benefits to having the refineries located in Utah?

    In addition to providing affordable and reliable energy, the petroleum industry in Utah is a major employer and source of economic activity. According to the Governor’s Office of Energy Development and the economic impact study they did on the energy industry in Utah, the refineries contributed $7.2 billion to the Utah’s economy in 2013.

    The refineries paid more than $532 million in labor wages in 2013. The average annual compensation for Utah refinery personnel, including benefits is $93,000.

    Source: Energy and Energy-Related Mining in Utah, an Economic and Fiscal Impact Assessment

  • How many people are employed at the refineries?

    According to the Western Energy Alliance, along with John Dunham and Associates, as well as the Governor’s Office of Energy Development, there are over 5,100 employed, directly and indirectly, associated with the refineries in Utah.

    Source: http://westernenergyalliance.guerrillaeconomics.net
    Energy and Energy-Related Mining in Utah, an Economic and Fiscal Impact Assessment

  • How much do the refineries pay in taxes?

    According to the Western Energy Alliance, the petroleum industry in Utah pays an estimated $418 million each year in state and federal taxes. As the major purchasers of the oil produced in the state, Utah refineries pay a large majority of the taxes either directly or through the purchase of crude oil.

    Source: http://westernenergyalliance.guerrillaeconomics.net

    • As of 2015, Utah ranks 11th nationally in oil production and 12th among states in natural gas production.
    • There are currently 141 operating refineries in the United States with 5 located in Utah. Utah refineries produced over 36 million barrels (1.5 billion gallons) of motor gasoline in 2015 and over 19 million barrels (798 million gallons) of distillate fuel (diesel).
    • Well completions in Utah (both oil and gas) have declined dramatically over recent years as commodity prices plummeted and have stayed low. There were 1243 completions in 2008, 925 in 2014 and only 305 in 2015.
    • Duchesne (46%), Uintah (34%) and San Juan (12%) Counties accounted for 92% of oil production in Utah in 2015. The balance was produced collectively from Sevier, Grand, Summit, Carbon and Emery Counties.
    • The ratio of oil wells drilled in Utah versus natural gas wells has shifted significantly over recent years as commodity prices have affected company's drilling programs. In 2008, only 28% of wells drilled were for oil while in 2014, 76% of all wells drilled were primarily seeking oil.
    • Wages for energy-related jobs are nearly double the average annual wage for all employment in Utah.
    • In 2015 petroleum products and natural gas accounted for 59% of total energy consumed in Utah. Coal was responsible for 38% while all renewables combined made up 3% of energy use.
    • Utah refineries received record amounts of crude oil in 2014 and only slightly less in 2015, with 43% coming from in-state and 8% coming from Canada.
    • Fossil fuels made up 98% of Utah’s total energy production in 2015, while renewable sources accounted for only 2% of Utah’s production portfolio.
    • Property taxes charged against Utah oil and gas activities have increased more than six times since 1996, totaling nearly $64 million in 2015.
    • The value of crude oil produced in Utah reached an all-time inflation-adjusted high of $3.2 billion in 2014, but then dropped to only $1.5 billion in 2015 as commodity prices sank.
    • Natural gas production in Utah reached a record high in 2012 of 491 billion cubic feet, but has since dropped to 423 billion cubic feet in 2015.
    • Oil and gas operations in Utah account for about 1.3% of the State's gross state product. Utilities (including some non-energy sectors), refineries, and pipeline transportation and maintenance account for an additional 1.9%.
    • The last major refinery built in the United States was put into operation in 1977.
    • Utah’s average price of residential natural gas in 2015 was $9.72 per thousand cubic feet, the 17th lowest in the nation. As recently as 2011, Utah’s price was the third lowest in the nation, but new natural gas pipelines have better connected our once captive market with the rest of the United States.
    • Natural gas is the largest source of annual energy production in Utah, surpassing coal for the first time in 2010.
    • In 2015, 76% of the electricity generated in Utah was from coal-burning power plants. Electricity generation from natural-gas power plants more than doubled since 2007, increasing its total share in 2015 to 19%.
    • Utah produced 18% more energy than it consumed in 2015, continuing its status as a net-energy exporter. This percentage is usually closer to 30%, but production of fossil fuels was significantly down in 2015.
    • Energy-related employment in Utah declined to 15,367 in September of 2015 (down 16% from the 18,236 recorded in October 2014 prior to the oil price crash), of which the majority (30%) came from the oil and gas sector.
    • Average yearly wages in the energy sector ($83,400, first three quarters of 2015) are more than double the statewide average annual wage ($41,500, first three quarters of 2015).

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