EPA issues final rule for refinery flares, process heaters

The US Environmental Protection Agency issued a final rule updating Clean Air Act standards for refinery flares and process heaters on June 1. The new standards will reduce sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and volatile organic compound emissions while saving refiners about $80 million/year, EPA said. American Petroleum Institute and American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers officials immediately disagreed.

EPA said the final rule, which was a response to petitions asking the agency to reconsider standards issued in 2008, provides greater compliance flexibility to refiners and ensures that they can make routine operational requirements without triggering new requirements.

It said the new standards rely on proven, widely used technologies to cut pollution from flares and process heaters. EPA estimates that they will provide as much as $600 million/year in health benefits. They also encourage refiners to recover gas that can be used to run equipment at their plants, it added.

While the revised rules do not address greenhouse gases, EPA estimates they will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 2 million tons/year as an added benefit, it indicated.

The new rules won’t deliver what EPA promises, API and AFPM officials said in separate responses. They will be tremendously costly to refiners without providing significant environmental benefits, API Regulatory and Scientific Affairs Director Howard Feldman maintained.

“Refineries have spent billions of dollars to improve environmental performance and air quality continues to improve under existing regulations,” he said. “This is part of a tsunami of new EPA air regulations for refineries that could diminish our fuel manufacturing capacity and increase our reliance on imported fuels.”

David Friedman, AFPM’s vice-president for regulatory affairs, said EPA’s final rule was more balanced than previous proposals, but that, “EPA still falls short in issuing commonsense standards.” He said, “This final rule will not ‘dramatically save’ but rather cost the industry significant amounts each year, adding to the billions already paid in complying with the myriad fuel and stationary source regulations, some of which are conflicting and contradictory.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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