Two oil giants agree to cut US air emissions by almost 60,000 tonnes annually

Two of the US’s largest petroleum refiners - British Petroleum and the Koch Petroleum Group, have agreed to spend almost $600 million on eliminating almost 60,000 tonnes of nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide and other emissions.

British Petroleum, (BP), the nation’s second largest refiner, and Wichita based Koch Petroleum Group, which together account for 15 percent of total U.S. refining capacity, took the initiative to begin talks with the US Government’s Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA), rather than wait for possible enforcement action by them. Under the agreement made on 25 July, BP is expected to spend more than $500 million on up-to-date pollution-control technologies and work practices at nine refineries nationwide that will reduce all emissions sources – from stacks, leaking valves, wastewater vents and flares. Koch Petroleum Group, the first refiner to enter into an agreement, will invest as much as $80 million at three refineries to achieve the same goals.

The agreement will cut NOx and SOx emissions 49,000 tons annually from the 12 refineries by 2004, and an additional 6,000 tons by 2008, by upgrading the use of new technologies. Improved leak detection and repair practices and other pollution control upgrades will reduce smog-causing volatile organic compounds by 3,600 tons per year and the carcinogen benzene by an estimated 400 tons per year. The agreement also includes measures to improve safety for workers and local communities that will sharply reduce accidental releases of pollutants.

The agreements represent a major breakthrough in EPA’s enforcement strategy for U.S. refineries under the Clean Air Act, and in return for the companies’ co-operation the agency has offered a “clean slate” for certain past violations, (although both agreed to pay a total of $14.5 million in penalties), and greater flexibility and incentives for new technology. EPA is conducting a sector-by-sector enforcement strategy that also includes coal-fired utilities and the paper manufacturing sector.

“Today’s action by the Clinton-Gore Administration will provide all Americans with significantly cleaner air,” said EPA Administrator Carol Browner, adding that she hoped that other companies would follow suit. “If they do not, however, the Clinton-Gore Administration is prepared to take whatever enforcement action is necessary to protect public health by upholding environmental laws,” she warned.

“Just as we are bringing cleaner, low-sulphur fuels to the US market ahead of legal requirements, this agreement signals our intent also to improve our environmental performance in manufacturing,” said BP refining and marketing chief executive, Doug Ford.

“This agreement addresses the past in a small way – and the future in a big way,” said Jim Mahoney, executive vice president of operations for Koch Petroleum Group. “It closes some old, disputed issues to the satisfaction of all parties involved and lays out an efficient, flexible path forward to implementing additional clean technologies and best practices at our Minnesota and Texas refineries.”

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