June 01, 2012

EPA Updates Clean Air Act Standards for Flares and Process Heaters at Petroleum Refineries

Practical standards, informed by stakeholder and industry input, cut harmful pollution while saving the refining industry money

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is issuing common-sense standards informed by important input from stakeholders, including industry, for new flares and process heaters at petroleum refineries which maintain important public health benefits while dramatically reducing costs. This final rule, which responds to petitions requesting the agency to reconsider standards issued in 2008, provides industry with greater compliance flexibility than those earlier standards did and ensures that companies can make routine operational changes without triggering new requirements.  These updates will reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds, which can cause respiratory illnesses, heart attacks and premature deaths, while saving the refining industry approximately $80 million per year. These reductions will also provide up to $610 million in annual health benefits.

Today’s final standards are flexible and rely on proven, widely used technologies and processes to cut pollution from flares and process heaters. Flares, which are typically used to burn off waste gases from the refining process, would need to follow work practice standards and meet monitoring requirements. Process heaters, which are used to heat process fluids, would need to meet emission limits for nitrogen oxides. The final standards also encourage refineries to recover gas that can be used as fuel to power equipment at the refinery.

These standards will reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), and volatile organic compounds, which react in the air to form fine particle pollution and ground-level ozone. While the revised standards do not address greenhouse gas emissions, they will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 2 million tons per year as a co-benefit.
EPA’s final rule responds to petitions requesting the agency to reconsider the final standards issued in 2008 and provides a clear path forward for refineries to meet these important standards and protect public health. 

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