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Oil refiners to reduce air pollution

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Hydrocarbon Engineering,

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Department of Justice have announced a US$425 million settlement with subsidiaries of Tesoro Corp., and Par Hawaii Refining that resolves alleged Clean Air Act violations and protects public health by reducing air pollution at six refineries. Under the settlement, the two companies will spend about US$403 million to install and operate pollution control equipment, and Tesoro will spend about US$12 million to fund environmental projects in local communities previously impacted by pollution. Tesoro will also pay a US$10.45 million civil penalty.

“The advanced technologies Tesoro and Par are required to implement are the future for protecting people from toxic air emissions,” said Cynthia Giles, EPA Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "This settlement puts new enforcement ideas to work that will dramatically cut pollution and protect communities."

“This settlement, achieved in partnership with states, will benefit the air quality in communities across the Western United States,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “It uses cutting edge technology to address global environmental issues like climate change by controlling flaring and provides important reductions of harmful air pollution in communities facing environmental and health challenges.”

The settlement, a consent decree lodged in US District Court for the Western District of Texas, includes provisions that resolves ongoing Clean Air Act violations at refineries in Kenai, Alaska; Martinez, California; Kapolei, Hawaii; Mandan, North Dakota; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Anacortes, Washington. Of the US$10.45 million civil penalty that Tesoro will pay, the US will receive US$8 050 000, and co-plaintiffs including the states of Alaska and Hawaii, and the Northwest Clean Air Agency will share US$2.4 million.

Once the companies install the pollution controls required by the settlement, annual emissions reductions at the six refineries will total an estimated 773 tpy of sulfur dioxide, 407 tpy of nitrogen oxides, 1140 tpy of volatile organic compounds, 27 tpy of hazardous air pollutants, 20 tpy of hydrogen sulfide and the equivalent of 47 034 tpy of carbon dioxide. A large number of the emissions reductions will occur in areas with impaired air quality and protect populations at risk for respiratory illnesses. In particular, this settlement will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from flaring at the subject refineries by over 60%.

The settlement addresses a range of alleged leak detection and repair and flaring violations under the Clean Air Act at all six refineries as well as violations of the Act’s Prevention of Significant Deterioration, Non-Attainment New Source Review, New Source Performance Standards and National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants at certain refineries. The settlement also addresses various violations of state clean air laws, programmes and permits.

Refineries process crude oil into products like gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene, jet fuel, asphalt and liquefied petroleum gas and emit pollutants from a number of different sources. At the refineries subject to this settlement, fluid catalytic cracking units, sulfuric acid plants, heaters, boilers and sulfur recovery units, are substantial emitters of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2). Flaring results in emissions of SO2, greenhouse gases and toxic air pollutants, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and hazardous air pollutants. Fugitive emissions of VOCs result from leaking valves and pumps and can result in numerous health effects, including eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, loss of coordination, nausea and damage to liver, kidney and the central nervous system, among other effects.

Leaks, flares, and excess emissions from refineries emit hazardous air pollutants, or air toxics, that are known or suspected to cause cancer, birth defects, and seriously impact the environment. SO2 and NOx have numerous adverse effects on human health and are significant contributors to acid rain, smog and haze. Refineries also emit greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, as well as fugitive VOCs.

The settlement incorporates the latest technological approaches to reducing flaring and making the flaring that does occur as efficient as possible. And in addition to installing pollution control equipment, the settlement requires Tesoro to use a series of ‘state of the art’ Next Generation Compliance tools to monitor pollution. Tesoro will use infrared gas-imaging cameras at four refineries to supplement the company’s enhanced leak detection and repair programme. These cameras are able to locate fugitive VOC emissions that may not be otherwise detected and to address these fugitive emissions and in doing so protect refinery employees from them. Tesoro will also pay for third-party auditing of compliance with the enhanced leak detection and repair requirements at all six facilities. EPA’s Next Generation Compliance strategy works to advance the use of ‘state of the art’ technology to identify and reduce pollution.

Under the settlement, Tesoro will also spend about US$12.2 million to fund three pollution mitigation projects. In addition to installing infrared cameras, Tesoro will install ultra-low NOx burners on a furnace at its Salt Lake City refinery. Tesoro estimates that the cost of this mitigation project is US$10.8 million and is expected to result in significant quantifiable reductions in NOx emissions. Tesoro will also contribute US$1 million to fund the replacement of old diesel school buses in Contra Costa County, California, with new compressed natural gas (CNG) school buses.

Replacing existing school buses that run on diesel with vehicles that are powered by CNG decreases emissions of NOX, SO2, PM, greenhouse gases and other air pollutants. This settlement is part of EPA’s National Enforcement Initiative to control harmful emissions from large sources of pollution, which includes refineries, under the Clean Air Act’s Prevention of Significant Deterioration requirements. The total combined SO2 and NOx emission reductions secured from all settlements under this initiative will exceed 2 million tpy once all the required pollution controls have been installed and implemented.

Adapted from press release by Francesca Brindle

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