EPA institutes new oil-refinery-emissions rules, tougher standards set

It seems there can’t be oil refining without pollution being released into the air on account of it. The trick is to minimize the amount of air pollution created from oil-refining processes and this cannot happen unless mitigation measures are put into effect to achieve that end. Which is why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has just established a new air standard that gets to the heart of this very thing.

“The new rule establishes first-ever national ‘fenceline’ monitoring requirements that direct refineries to install air monitors ‘on the fence’ where pollution leaves oil refinery property and pours into neighboring communities,” Earthjustice in its Sept. 29, 2015 press release: “Community and Environmental Groups Herald Improvements in New Oil Refinery Pollution Standards, Victory: All U.S. refineries must measure benzene in communities for the first time,” explained. “The monitors will measure the dangerous pollutant, benzene, and if benzene is too high, refineries will be required to take action to reduce their emissions.

There are some 150 U.S.-based oil refineries discharging each year in excess of 20,000 tons of harmful emissions including benzene and toluene, chemicals linked to cancer, Earthjustice added.

“According to the EPA, the new rule reduces cancer risk and the threats of other health hazards significantly for more than one million Americans by preventing thousands of tons of toxins from being released into the air every year.

“Other improvements include:

  • New monitoring and operating requirements to minimize pollution from the harmful burning of waste gas, called flaring.
  • Tighter control requirements on emissions from various parts of refineries like delayed coker units and storage tanks.
  • Removal of an unlawful loophole, which enabled refineries to get away with dangerous, uncontrolled releases of pollutants when refineries are starting up, shutting down, and malfunctioning.”

With implementation of this rule, many lives could be saved.

“These standards are especially needed to bring new protections for public health to all exposed communities, which are disproportionately lower income and communities of color, in which children are particularly vulnerable to toxic exposure,” Earthjustice in the release insisted. “Yet they also highlight the need for the EPA to keep working to further strengthen protections for communities from refineries’ pollution and the health and safety hazards they cause.”

More work will be critical for fully carrying out the new rules and to make certain all refineries “eventually use the best available monitoring technology in place at some facilities to assure communities the protection from pollution that all Americans deserve,” Earthjustice went on.

Meanwhile, the EPA in its own release wrote: “When fully implemented, the rule will result in a reduction of 5,200 tons per year of toxic air pollutants, and 50,000 tons per year of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Also, as a co-benefit of these final standards, EPA projects that these standards will eliminate emissions of greenhouse gases equivalent to approximately 660,000 tons per year of CO2. These cost-effective steps will have no noticeable impact on the cost of petroleum products at the approximately 150 petroleum refineries around the country.”

Moreover, the EPA explained that benzene monitoring will be full-circle, in other words, no location around refineries excluded from the surveillance-coverage zone, the monitoring in question able to detect the chemical at low levels even, and data from said monitoring being made accessible and available on the EPA’s website.

“Other specific requirements in this rule will virtually eliminate visible flare emissions and releases by pressure release devices by requiring a comprehensive program of process changes and pollution prevention measures for these emission sources,” added the federal regulatory agency in the EPA release. “It will also require additional emission reductions from storage tanks and delayed coking units, some of which had no previous required controls.”

Published by Alan Kandel