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EPA proposes updates to emissions standards for refineries

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to update the toxic air pollution standards for petroleum refineries. The new rules would further reduce toxic pollution from flaring and other processes and includes new monitoring requirements. Among its provisions, the agency’s proposal would, for the first time, require monitoring of air concentrations of benzene around the fenceline perimeter of refineries to assure that emissions are controlled. These results would be available to the public.

The proposal would also require upgraded emission controls for storage tanks including controls for smaller tanks; performance requirements for flares to ensure that waste gases are properly destroyed; and emissions standards for delayed coking units which are currently a significant unregulated source of toxic air emissions at refineries.

There are currently 142 large (major source) and 7 small (area source) petroleum refineries in the United States.

After application of the proposed standards for cokers and storage tanks, the EPA projects that toxic air pollutant emissions such as benzene, toluene and xylene would be reduced by approximately 1,800 tons per year (tpy) and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions would be reduced by approximately 19,000 tpy.

In addition, the proposed amendments for flaring will result in reductions of 3,800 tons per year of hazardous air pollutants (HAP) and 33,000 tons per year of VOC. Due to uncertainty in these estimates, the flaring reductions could be higher.

As a co-benefit of these proposed standards, the EPA projects to eliminate emissions of approximately 700,000 metric tonnes of CO2 equivalents.

The EPA estimates the capital cost of this proposed rule to be approximately $240 million, with an annualized cost of approximately $40 million. The agency further projects that this will have a negligible impact on the costs of petroleum products.

The proposed rule is based on the risk and technology review of two emissions standards already in place at refineries: the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants From Petroleum Refineries (Refinery MACT 1) and the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants for Petroleum Refineries: Catalytic Cracking Units, Catalytic Reforming Units, and Sulfur Recovery Units (Refinery MACT 2).

EPA is issuing this proposal as part of a process outlined in the Clean Air Act that requires the agency to evaluate the emissions standards currently in place to determine whether there is any remaining risk to public health or the environment and whether there have been any new developments in practices, processes and control technologies.

In a series of recent enforcement cases, EPA has compelled the use of innovative pollution control practices such as flare gas recovery and flare efficiency that are reducing toxic air pollution in communities.

EPA will take comment on the proposal for 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register. The agency plans to hold two public hearings, near Houston and Los Angeles, and will finalize the standards in April 2015.


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