The release of toxic, potentially hazardous gases into the atmosphere through local industrial flares, such as those at local refineries, may face stricter regulation after a successful push by a local environmental group.
Environmental groups have succeeded in brokering a deal with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that will mandate the organization to develop stricter emissions standards and reporting requirements for industrial facilities that release toxic gasses through flaring systems.
The lawsuit, which was brought on Aug. 3, 2013 by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LABB) and a handful of other environmental organizations, requested the United States Court for the District of Columbia to mandate the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to update emissions standards.
All refineries are equipped with flares that are used to burn off toxic gasses that build up within the plant.
However, the standards they use to determine how efficient their flares are was developed decades ago in some cases.
Anna Hrybyk, program manager at LABB, said the initial judgment in the lawsuit only puts a deadline on the EPA to define new emissions standards for refineries, but does not delineate what should be taken into account when considering those new emissions standards.
“When Motiva submits a report to the state and they say they have burnt off 98 to 99 percent (of emissions) and they report that only 1 to 2 percent were released, they are basing that on outdated emissions factors that have not been updated for some time,” she said.
Hrybyk said some emissions standards have not been revisited since 1991 and that since that time technology has greatly improved. Now, LABB would like to see the EPA force industrial facilities to add equipment that would more accurately measure the levels of pollutants released into the atmosphere.
“There have been studies which show that those standards are not really capturing the truth about emissions. Based on those studies they need to develop new emission factors which take into account all of the refinery’s emissions,” she said.
In particular, LABB is advocating for real time reporting that will allow refineries, as well as regulatory agencies, to measure gases for toxins as they pass through the flares, which would also allow for better assessment of flare efficiency.
As a model for increased efficiency, LABB points to a Chevron refinery in Richmond, Calif. that has undergone a transformation since a 2012 incident. In that incident, a pipe rupture and ensuing fire at the plant resulted in a large release of toxic gases in the area and sent 15,000 people living nearby to the hospital.
Due to the release of toxic gasses, Chevron implemented a fence line monitoring system that provides for more accurate readings. It also allows for up-to-the-minute air monitoring on a public website taken from monitors located in neighborhoods most at risk from the release of hazardous materials.
Hrybyk said LABB feels all industrial facilities releasing emissions in areas where a concentrated population lives should conform to higher standards to ensure emissions are as clean as possible.
“That is what we are looking for from the EPA and all facilities in populated areas,” she said.
The EPA has agreed to complete a review of the emissions standards by Dec. 19 of this year.
LABB has a long history in St. Charles Parish. After 15 years in assisting Norco activist Margie Richard, Shell Oil was persuaded to engage in a buyout of the Diamond community in Norco that was located immediately adjacent to what is now the Motiva Refinery Complex.
Those efforts were recounted in the book Night Fire: Big Oil, Poison Air, and Margie Richard’s Fight to Save Her Town and the PBS documentary film “Fenceline: A Town Divided.”