DOJ, EPA reach refining flare gas settlement with Marathon

Marathon Petroleum Corp. reached what the US Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency jointly called an innovative agreement after developing and installing equipment to cap waste gases at its refinery flares.

They said that the Findlay, Ohio, refining and marketing company spent more than $45 million to develop the equipment for use at its six refineries’ 22 flares, but expects to save $5 million/year from reduced steam use and product recovery while cutting air pollution by 5,400 tons/year (tpy).

“By working with EPA, [Marathon] helped advance new approaches that reduce air pollution and improve efficiency at its refineries and provide the US with new knowledge to bring similar improvements in air quality to other communities across the nation,” Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Office, said on Apr. 5.

DOJ and EPA said as part of the effort to reach this agreement, Marathon, under EPA’s direction and oversight, spent more than $2.4 million to develop and conduct pioneering combustion efficiency testing of flares and to advance the understanding of the relationship between flare operating parameters and flare combustion efficiency. Beginning in 2009, they added, Marathon installed flow monitors, gas chromatographs, and other equipment to improve its flares’ combustion efficiency.

The company said it spent $45 million on the equipment so far and expects to spend another $6.5 million for it, the federal entities said. At the same time, it projects additional future savings through its operation beyond the $5 million yearly cost reduction from less steam usage and product recovery.

From 2008 to the end of 2011, the controls Marathon installed captured 4,720 tpy of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and 110 tpy of hazardous air pollutants (HAP), according to DOJ and EPA. They said another 530 tpy of VOC and 30 tpy of HAP are projected to be eliminated in the future.

Under the agreement, which DOJ and EPA said resolves alleged Clean Air Act violations, Marathon also will implement a project at its Detroit refinery to remove another 15 tpy of VOC and another 1 tpy of benzene from the air by paying an estimated $2.2 million to install controls on numerous sludge handling tanks and equipment.

Marathon also agreed to pay a $460,000 fine under a consent decree which was filed in US District Court in Detroit, DOJ and EPA said. The consent decree is subject to a 30-day comment period and court approval before it becomes final.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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