Obama admin cracks down on refinery emissions

Source: Amanda Reilly, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Petroleum refineries will be forced to curb toxic air emissions and beef up monitoring under a rule finalized today by U.S. EPA.

Released this afternoon ahead of a court-ordered deadline tomorrow, the rule encompasses New Source Performance Standards and maximum achievable control technology for refineries under the Clean Air Act.

“The common-sense final rule will improve air quality and protect the health of families who live near refineries,” EPA said.

There are 142 petroleum refineries considered major pollution sources under the Clean Air Act, as well as seven small area sources.

Among contaminants targeted by the rule: benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, nickel and hydrogen cyanide. EPA said the final rule would reduce emissions of toxic air pollutants by 5,200 tons per year, as well as eliminate 50,000 tons of volatile organic compounds annually.

First proposed in May 2014, the rule requires refineries to upgrade emissions controls and to continuously monitor concentrations of benzene pollution levels at their property lines.

Refiners will be required to encircle their facilities with monitors so that they can detect pollution depending on the wind, install technology that can detect benzene at very low levels and take corrective actions if monitored emissions exceed limits.

“This rule will, for the first time ever, provide important information about refinery emissions to the public and neighboring communities by requiring refineries to monitor emissions at their fence lines,” EPA said in a statement sent to environmental justice advocates.

The rule will also put in place a national program to reduce smoking flare emissions and emissions by pressure-release devices. Refineries will be required to monitor flares. The rule will limit flaring events to no more than three events in three years per device, EPA said in its fact sheet.

Storage tanks and delayed coking units also face new emission limitations under the final rule.

The oil industry had opposed the refinery regulation’s fence-line monitoring and flaring requirements, warning that the agency’s proposal overall would cost refiners more than $20 billion on top of millions of dollars in annual costs.

To address concerns raised by the oil industry about real-time monitoring, EPA’s final rule allows refiners to choose alternative methods in the short term that will allow for real-time monitoring in the future.

EPA said the final rule will cost $283 million in capital costs and $63 million annually.

The White House Office of Management and Budget hosted a handful of meetings on the final rule this month, including with key oil industry groups, but the release of the standards has been overshadowed by EPA’s more contentious proposal to lower the national ozone standard. The final ozone rule is due out this week under a court order (see related stories).