Lengthening Fire Seasons

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Over the last few decades, the US fire hazard season has been lengthening and has been associated with bigger fires and greater annual acreage burned. Residential dwellings continue to encroach on what was once uninhabited forest land, and global warming is contributing to warmer temperatures and increased drought. As a result, the costs to prevent fires, fight fires, and repair damage to homes and infrastructure continue to increase. In 2017, over $2.4 billion has been spent by the federal government on fire suppression for the 50,000 fires this year. Yet this figure understates costs as it doesn’t include state, tribal, local, and private efforts.

Beetle killed Forests

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US forestland also continues to be ravaged by the infestation of the Mountain Pine Beetle and other invasive bugs. It is estimated that about 8% of all US forests have invasive bug issues that are threatening forest vitality. In particular, all 19 western states and Canada have experienced aggressive devastation by the Pine Beetle with over 88 million acres of timberland infested at a 70-90% kill rate.

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Although this infested wood can sometimes still be harvested to be used as wood products, much is just left to fall over and decay resulting in increased kindling for forest fires. Thus, trees that are killed by these beetles become dead standing timber waiting to catch on fire. Some of this dead standing timber may be harvested for use in SynSel biorefineries to make biofuel, and, thereby, decrease the fire risk in these areas.

Sustainable Forestry

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Efforts to suppress fires oftentimes disrupt the natural cycles of fire and regrowth. Fire suppression can be associated with the buildup of burnable brush that feeds destructive fires unless proactive steps are made to promote ecological stable landscapes. SynSel partners with its landowners, wood harvesters, and industry groups (e.g., Forest Resources Association) to incorporate sustainable forestry practices that include thinning forests and prescribing controlled burns to remove flammable vegetation as defined by the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy. An extensive Fire Hazard Community Outreach initiative will also be implemented to harvest otherwise hazardous under-brush, eligible dead fallen timber from beetle kill, and other woody biomass deemed hazardous to the community identified by forestry experts.

SynSel is also committed to procuring its biomass in accordance with multiple third-party certifications including:

  • The Forest Stewardship Council
  • The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI)
  • The Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC)
  • The American Tree Farm System
  • The Forest Resources Association

Resilient Landscapes

These sustainable forestry practices are just a few of the efforts by SynSel to partner with its landowners and wood harvesters to help maintain thriving, resilient, and fire-adapted ecosystems within SynSel’s wood procurement zones.

Non-Fire Natural Disasters

US oil refinery infrastructure is largely concentrated in the coastal states, which makes the refinery and seaport infrastructure particularly susceptible to non-fire natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes. Of the 141 operating US oil refineries, only a small minority are located in the wood breadbaskets of the Pacific Northwest, Rocky Mountains, Midwest, and upper Northeast. It is these wood breadbasket areas that SynSel targets to place its 100 biorefineries. SynSel also leverages the extensive transportation infrastructure to move its biofuel via truck or rail to the markets with the greatest returns.

US Regional Refinery Capacity and complexity

US Regional Refinery Capacity and complexity

The location of each SynSel biorefinery is carefully selected to minimize disruption of operations from non-fire natural disasters:


Hurricanes: US oil refinery capacity is particularly susceptible to hurricanes due to the large concentration of refineries on the coasts. One area in particular, the Gulf Coast, is responsible for more than 50% of US refining. Hurricanes cause damage and disruption to the refinery infrastructure itself as well as the seaport infrastructure that moves the vast majority of inputs and outputs. SynSel is mitigating hurricane risk by targeting to locate approximately 5% of its biorefineries in the Gulf Coast region.

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Earth Quakes: The refineries in the west coast and in southern Illinois and Missouri are close to known earthquake faults and are susceptible to disruption if/when a major earthquake strikes. These refineries represent about 25% of all US oil refinery volume. SynSel mitigates earthquake risk by targeting to locate approximately 10% of its biorefineries on the west coast and southern Illinois and Missouri.


Tsunamis: All refineries located on the coasts are susceptible to tsunamis. This represents 85% of all US oil refining. SynSel mitigates tsunami risk by targeting to locate approximately 15% of its biorefineries on the coasts.

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Volcanoes: Active and potentially active US volcanoes are largely located in the west coast and Rocky Mountain States. These areas represent 20% of all US oil refining. SynSel mitigates volcano risk by targeting about 20% of its biorefineries in these forest heavy locations.