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EPA Publishes Final Refinery RTR Rule
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EPA Publishes Final Refinery RTR Rule  


On September 29, EPA issued its final Petroleum Refinery Sector Risk and Technology Review (RTR) and New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) rule, which had been proposed on June 30, 2014.  The final rule requires continuous fenceline monitoring for benzene, which is the first time such a measure has been required.  The rule also calls for reductions in visible flare emissions and releases by pressure release devices (PRDs) by calling for a comprehensive program of process changes and pollution prevention.  The new requirements also mandate additional reductions from storage tanks and delayed coker operations, some of which had no required federal controls in the past.  The final rule revising air toxics limits for petroleum refineries backs down from some strict emissions controls floated in the proposed version of the rule, greatly reducing compliance costs while retaining what EPA says are health benefits similar to the proposal.


The main difference between the proposal and final rule is that EPA dropped a plan to ban outright all toxics release from PRDs, which industry says are vital to ensure plant safety.  As a result, the agency is not requiring the construction of many new flares to dispose of waste gases.  In an overview fact sheet for the final rule, EPA says that instead of a PRD ban the agency will “significantly reduce smoking flare emissions and releases by pressure release devices by requiring a comprehensive program of process changes and pollution prevention measures for these emission sources.  This first of its kind national program will require: a minimum of three pollution prevention measures be installed; continuous monitoring of flares and pressure release devices; release events must be analyzed to determine the cause and remedied; and a hard limit of no more than three events in three years per device or flare.”


The final rule does tighten some air pollution control requirements for the sector, setting stricter emissions limits for various hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) than those now in place for the refinery sector.  The rule imposes tougher conditions on flares, requiring greater destruction efficiency, and sets first-time limits on delayed cokers, used to process residual oil from refining into oil and petroleum coke.  It limits emissions from smaller storage tanks for the first time, and tightens requirements for some larger ones.


EPA is also imposing first-of-its-kind fenceline monitoring to better protect and inform communities near refineries.  Fenceline monitoring will be required in 2017, a year earlier than proposed.  Full compliance with the rule is required in 2018.  The rule requires that plants be encircled by 12 or 24 canister-based monitors, depending on the size of the facility, and will monitor benzene as a surrogate for all HAPs.  EPA set the threshold level of benzene that triggers a root cause analysis and corrective response at nine micrograms per cubic meter.  Still to come is the establishment of a data disclosure system for the emissions regime.  EPA said that refinery fence-line communities had called on the agency to administer a disclosure database to be hosted on its website, and officials yesterday said that has yet to be built.


According to EPA estimates, the regulation, which affects approximately 150 petroleum refineries, will result in reductions of 5,200 tons per year of hazardous air pollutants and 50,000 tons per year of volatile organic compounds, as well as eliminating emissions of greenhouse gases equivalent to about 660,000 tons per year of carbon dioxide.  However, industry groups appear to have generally won significant concessions from EPA with respect to the rule's stringency and the consequent compliance costs.  According to a statement from API, the group now estimates compliance costs for the industry at $1 billion, still far more than EPA's estimate of $283 million in capital costs and $63 million annually.


The final rule does not find remaining, or “residual” risks from the refinery sector in excess of acceptable bounds.  This issue is crucial because the final rule stems from a “risk and technology review,” under which EPA must under the air law review the remaining risks presented by an industry sector eight years after its initial regulation under air toxics standards.  If EPA finds such risks, and it finds technology is cost-effectively available to mitigate them, EPA must tighten maximum achievable control technology standards.  Also, EPA can tighten standards, or introduce them for the first time on new equipment, based on new developments in industrial process and control technologies.


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