U.S. EPA updates emissions standards for oil refineries

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has updated air pollution standards to further control toxic air emissions from oil refineries. Exposure to toxic air pollutants, such as benzene, can cause respiratory problems and other serious health issues and can increase the risk of developing cancer, the EPA said. The rule requires first-of-its-kind fence-line monitoring to better protect and inform nearby communities, while also strengthening emission controls for flares, pressure relief devices, storage tanks and delayed coker operations.

“These updated Clean Air Act standards will lower the cancer risk from petroleum refineries for more than 1.4 million people and are a substantial step forward in EPA’s work to protect the health of vulnerable communities located near these facilities,” said Gina McCarthy, EPA administrator.

The regulation marks the first update to refinery toxics emissions standards in two decades. It would go into effect in 2018 and affect approximately 150 refineries that the EPA considered “major sources” of emissions.

“This rule will virtually eliminate smoking flare emissions and upset emission events, and for the first time in a national regulation, require refineries to monitor emissions at key emission sources within their facilities and around their fence lines,” the EPA said in a statement.

The agency scaled back some of the requirements it had laid out in its proposed rule last May, when the oil industry had warned that fuel shortages could result and the cost of upgrades could total USD 20 billion.

The American Petroleum Institute (API), the largest trade group representing the oil industry in the United States, praised the EPA for taking into consideration many of the existing investments refineries have made to reduce flaring emissions and pollution, but it said the final rule could still cost the oil industry USD 1 billion. The EPA estimated that the capital cost of the rule would be USD 283 million, with an annualized cost of about USD 63 million.

The rule will result in the reduction of 5,200 tons per year of toxic air pollutants and 50,000 tons per year of volatile organic compounds, the agency said.

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