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When BP received approval to re-engineer its Whiting operation in Indiana, intended to refine oil from Canada’s tar sands, environmental groups challenged the permits. It turned out that BP’s air permit application did not accurately reflect the real emissions from the refinery. As explained by NRDC, one of the challengers:

“The expansion at BP Whiting adds three new flares, but BP’s pollution analysis assumed that these new flares would never even be used. NRDC and the other citizen groups alleged in their challenges, and US EPA substantially agreed, that BP had committed multiple errors of this nature in calculating emissions from the proposed expansion to support their conclusion, agreed to by Indiana, that the overall emission increase was too small to trigger modern pollution control requirements under the Clean Air Act.”

In a negotiated agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency and environmental groups, BP has agreed to add over $400 million in pollution controls to address these concerns an and pay an $8 million penalty for violations of the Clean Air Act.

Under the settlement, BP will install new equipment to limit the amount of waste gas sent to flaring devices and ensure proper combustion efficiency for any gases that are burned in a flaring device. The new air permit for the operation will impose some of the lowest emission limits in the US, enhance controls on wastewater containing benzene and require an enhanced leak detection and repair program. BP will also spend $9.5 million on projects at the refinery to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases and undertake a supplemental emissions monitoring program. The program will continuously monitor benzene, toluene, pentane, hexane, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and all compounds containing reduced sulfur, and the resulting data will be posted on a publicly-accessible website.

Refining lower quality petroleum from the tar sands, which is heavier and has a higher sulfur content than conventional crude, is predicted to x a significantly higher greenhouse gas and other air contaminants emissions intensity. On study concluded that: “Fuel combustion increments observed predict that a switch to heavy oil and tar sands could double or triple refinery emissions and add 1.6-3.7 gigatons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere annually from fuel combustion to process the oil.”

Canadian regulators may follow the US EPA direction in developing the air pollution approvals for new and expanding Canadian refineries, particularly those that will process tar sands crude.

By Meredith James and Dianne Saxe

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