On September 29, 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued substantial new regulations to control hazardous air pollutant (HAP) emissions from petroleum refineries. The final rule arises from the “residual risk and technology” review of existing HAP standards for refineries as mandated by the Clean Air Act.
The chief new requirement is the need to install fenceline monitors to measure concentrations of benzene and other HAPs. Monitoring data from will be available to the public through a new EPA database. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy likened the new database to a “kind of neighborhood watch” for refinery air pollution. The final rule also reduced from three to two years the timeframe for complying with the fenceline monitoring requirement.
The final rule appears to include some significant improvements over the proposed rule, which sources previously estimated would cost the industry $20 billion. Under the final rule, industry sources peg those costs at closer to $1 billion. EPA, by contrast, contends that 142 petroleum refineries will incur $283 million in capital costs to comply with the updated standards.
A primary industry concern with the proposed rule related to extensive new flaring requirements related to proposed requirements to prevent the venting of pressure release devices to the atmosphere. The final rule establishes work practice standards aimed at reducing the magnitude and frequency of pressure release device venting and flaring. Flares will be required to operate with “no visible emissions” and to comply with flare-tip velocity requirements only when flare vent gas flow is below the smokeless capacity of the flare, rather than at all times, as was proposed. The final rule also maintains proposed emissions limits for delayed cokers and requirements that refinery operators actively monitor flaring operations.
Despite changes in the final rule, industry stakeholders remain concerned about the new requirements. In particular, the residual risk review of the sector concluded that refinery emissions fall under “the significance level” for chronic risk, suggesting that the tighter standards (based on an analysis of feasible and available technology) are unnecessary.