Argus - Lawsuit alleges EPA under-reports refinery emissions

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Washington, 3 May (Argus) — Environmental groups are suing the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over an alleged failure to update how it measures emissions from flaring at refineries.

The suit says that EPA has failed to update the formulas as required every three years, and that as a result the agency has under-measured refinery emissions. The suit cites studies conducted at refineries owned by Marathon, Shell and BP that have found that actual emissions of volatile organic compounds are 10 to 100 times higher than the estimated emissions factors used by EPA. The suit alleges that EPA still uses emissions factors for benzene based on a 1983 study, while more recent reviews have found those emission factors underestimate the flare's combustion efficiency “by as much as 28pc.”

It also alleges that more volatile organic compounds are being emitted from storage tanks than the current factors estimate.

The lawsuit was filed by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the Air Alliance Houston, Community In-Power and Development Association, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, and Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services.

“Emissions that are not counted are 'off the books' as far as federal and state agencies are concerned,” EIP attorney Whitney Ferrell said. “And that leaves communities downwind of oil, chemical and gas plants exposed to higher levels of butadiene, benzene and other toxic pollutants that increase the risk of cancer and other diseases.”

EIP notified EPA that it intended to sue on this topic in July 2012, and says that it has received no response from EPA since then. The lawsuit points to a 2006 EPA inspector general report that found that the under-reporting of refinery emissions was “caused largely due to the use of poor quality emissions factors.”

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