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BP Agrees to Major Pollution Cuts at Tar Sands Refinery

RP Siegel | Friday May 25th, 2012 | 2 Comments

Back in the waning days of the GW Bush administration, the EPA approved a permit issued by the State of Indiana, long known for its laxity in environmental affairs, to BP, to expand a refinery used to distill petroleum from Canadian tar sands oil, one of the dirtiest forms of fossil fuel known to man. The permit had long been opposed by environmental groups including NRDC and Sierra Club.

The Obama administration decided to reexamine the situation in light of environmental and health impacts, and a new consent decree was issued today which calls on BP to clean up its Whiting refinery at an estimated cost of $400 million. The money will pay for increased pollution monitoring and control equipment. This new ruling was issued on the grounds that the existing permit, “did not accurately reflect the pollution realities of the Whiting refinery’s expansion.”

According to EPA estimates, the new equipment will eliminate some 4,000 tons of regulated polluted per year, including: dangerous volatile organic compounds, sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides. Additionally, the installed monitoring equipment will collect data that will shed light on the pollution generated by this type of operation, data than will be usefully applied to other facilities. The consent decree was signed by the State of Indiana, BP, the Department of Justice, the EPA, and various environmental groups.

The Whiting refinery expansion adds three new flares: large, torch-like structures, that burn off excess gas, emitting thousands of tons of pollution annually. In their original permit application, BP claimed that the flares would never be used. It’s a little hard to believe they would spend the money to build them then.

A similar settlement on a tar sands refinery expansion was recently made against ConocoPhillips for their Woods River refinery in Illinois. The expansion, which was completed this spring, was required to include substantial pollution control and monitoring measures as well.

BP’s four billion dollar refinery expansion will now contain state of the art pollution controls including:

• Equipment on both new and existing flares that will cut flaring emissions up to 90%.

• Emission controls on the refinery “coking” process that is being re-tooled to handle the heavy Canadian crude.

• Additional projects to reduce increased carbon emissions, associated with of the tar sands project.

• Establishment of a $500,000 fund to reduce local diesel emissions through a diesel retrofit program.

In addition, the refinery will be required to do monitoring at the fence line for dangerous benzene, toluene, pentane, sulfur dioxide, hexane, hydrogen sulfide and other sulfur compound emissions and inform the public with weekly updates available online.

Predictably, conservatives and tea-partiers attacked the petition ruling as a job killer, as if the money being paid for remediation would simply disappear into a black hole, rather than being transferred from the big oil company to those implementing the remediation.

According to Steve Francis, Chairperson of the Hoosier Chapter Sierra Club. “This agreement forces the project to integrate more pollution control equipment. That means lessened health impacts, respiratory problems and more construction jobs. This has been a job generator; not a job killer.”

The question of whether or not these types of actions create or reduce jobs has been politicized and oversimplified despite efforts to conduct more objective studies.

But even if a few more jobs are lost than gained, how does that compare with the millions of dollars in health care costs, not to mention the suffering that will be avoided by this rule?

Of course, there is absolutely no reason why jobs need to be cut.  The other, more logical approach is to raise the price of tar sands fuel to cover the cost of producing it safely. Raising the price of the fuel would make other, cleaner alternatives more attractive. This would also bring us a step closer to what the World Business Council for Sustainable Development calls the “true value price” of the product. The true value price is the price that fully reflects a product’s net impact on society and the world. This concept of true value pricing is one of the long term goals of WBCSD’s sustainability  roadmap.

[Image credit: AdamCohn: Flickr Creative Commons]

RP Siegel, PE, is the President of Rain Mountain LLC. He is also the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining format. Now available on Kindle.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.

 


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  • http://www.triplepundit.com Nick Aster

    Good analysis.  This is also testament to what a functional democracy like Canada can do.  The tar sands are still a filthy disaster, but thank god they’re not in Nigeria.

  • http://www.enviroequipment.com/ Enviro Equipment Inc.

    Raising the price of fuel derived from tar sands is a bad idea because
    it’s still sends a message that this type of fuel is “reasonably” safe
    from an environmental point of view when, in fact, it isn’t.