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Dirty Crude Spells Dirty Air in California

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State at a Crossroads

Diane Bailey, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, says the trend toward dirtier crude in California is alarming, because once facilities are upgraded to process the heavier stuff, it won’t be easy for them to switch to other forms of crude.

“Refineries make choices on which crude feedstock to use, and that locks them in for a decade or two. It’s a long term investment,” she said. “Crude feedstock affects carbon footprint — these refineries have tremendous control over carbon budget.”

California’s biggest stick to deter the oil industry’s move to dirtier crude –including the controversial Canadian tar sands oil– may be its Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), a little known component of A.B. 32. While earlier laws focused on making sure that cars were more fuel-efficient or that the gasoline they burned was cleaner, the standard is a first-ever attempt to consider—and reduce–the entire carbon footprint of motor fuels.

The standard has two key parts: a biofuels policy that requires that gasoline be blended with renewable fuels to lower carbon intensity and a “high carbon intensity crude oil” program that creates incentives for refineries to process cleaner forms of crude.

“The LCFS prevents refineries in California from getting increasingly dirtier by utilizing dirtier domestic and foreign sources of crude oil,” said Simon Mui, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The standards say oil companies must clean up, either by reducing the carbon intensity of their crude oils or offsetting those emissions in California. This approach effectively creates more value for lower carbon, less polluting crude oils.”

The standard doesn’t outright ban dirtier crudes, said Clegern, the California Air Resources Board spokesman. Instead, refineries must ensure that their crude oil mix meets a “California average” that will be adjusted each year. Clegern said the standard uses a life cycle approach to evaluate the carbon intensity of 250 crude oils that had previously been lumped together, so the state can track overall emissions from extraction to combustion.

The low carbon fuels rule is fiercely opposed by petroleum refiners and out-of-state ethanol makers, who have sued to stop it. In December, a federal judge in Fresno issued an injunction to halt enforcement of the standard, saying it discriminates against out-of-state fuel sources and interferes with interstate commerce. The Air Resources Board has appealed the ruling, seeking a stay to the injunction. A decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco is pending.

Tupper Hull, a spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association, said the new standard would actually increase the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, because crude oil producers “will be put in a position of shuffling crude around the globe to meet California’s standard.” The Western States Petroleum Association was not a party in the lawsuit.

“We had consistently argued that CARB’s efforts to differentiate crude in terms of carbon intensity was a bad policy that would cause adverse implications, and not result in reductions in emissions,” Hull said.

Instead of preventing heavier crude from unconventional sources from being extracted and processed, he said the crude will just be shipped to other countries to be processed and then shipped to gasoline consumers around the world, in effect boosting greenhouse gas emissions.

But the industry, like everyone else, can only speculate about what will happen when the Low Carbon Fuel Standard takes root.

Mui, the Natural Resources Defense Council scientist, says he’s optimistic it can stanch the trend toward dirtier crude in California, because it sets an industry-specific performance standard, similar to the fuel economy standards that helped the auto industry improve its fuel efficiency over time.

“Would the car companies be improving fuel economy if there weren’t standards in place?” he said. “The answer is no, you need standards. For oil companies, what the LCFS is doing is changing the signal to not invest in dirtier stuff, and to make it more attractive to invest in cleaner fuels.”

This post was originally published by New America Media.


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9:24AM PDT on Mar 31, 2012

Care2, your new favorite greenwash ad campaign (Toyota) vehemently fought the California CO2 limits. You say that your advertiser policy is 'neutral' and is only limited when the product is harmful. Well, when a company fights legislation to limit the destructive results of their product, is that not harmful to all life on Earth? I continue to be disappointed in the willingness of Care2 to push destructive companies and products on us. Walk your talk Care2!

2:55AM PDT on Mar 31, 2012

Thanks for information.

12:02AM PDT on Mar 31, 2012

Thanks for the article.

2:50PM PDT on Mar 30, 2012

Clean air is a vital necessity. Dependency on coal, oils, fossil fuels, nuclear, etc. will be the death of the planet and its inhabitants! The sooner we switch over to renewable energy resources, the better for us all in every conceivable way.

1:27PM PDT on Mar 30, 2012

We need to breath or we is that simple.
Until we stop oil /gas and coal..we will not breath well and have health issues.
How long will we continue to hurt ourselves for dirty energy?

1:24PM PDT on Mar 30, 2012

thanks for posting.

11:02AM PDT on Mar 30, 2012


10:28AM PDT on Mar 29, 2012

Moving away from fossil fuels, as quickly as possible, is the only true solution to this problem.

10:18AM PDT on Mar 29, 2012

Oil men are way too powerful. However no harm in asking them to clean up their act.

8:41AM PDT on Mar 29, 2012

It is put up with this or continue dependence on foreign oil... No, your divided congress and inadequate dysfunctional energy department will never agree on any alternative energy package. So, forget about bring that up.

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