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Oil refineries
  • The oil and petroleum industry is highly regulated due to the number of environmental concerns associated with the industry.
  • Environmental statutes affecting the industry include the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and others.

The oil and petroleum industry is composed of firms that locate, develop, extract, and refine oil deposits from those geological structures most likely to hold oil and gas. The industry faces a number of environmental concerns.

Clean air

The petroleum refining industry is unique in that the environmental requirements aimed at the industry are of two basic types:

  • Requirements mandating specific product qualities for the purpose of reducing the environmental impacts associated with the downstream use of the product; and
  • Requirements directed at reducing the environmental impacts of the refineries themselves.

These requirements aimed at reformulating refinery products and reducing emissions from refinery operations make petroleum refining one of the most heavily regulated industries.

Of the various environmental statutes affecting the industry, the Clean Air Act has the most significant impact.

The National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) set standards for sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides, carbon monoxide, ozone, non-methane hydrocarbons, opacity, and total suspended particulates in the ambient air. The Clean Air Act also established a schedule for the reduction and elimination of lead in gasoline. Another provision limited the sulfur content in residual and distillate fuel oils used by electric utilities and industrial plants.

Major requirements altering product formulations to reduce emissions from mobile sources are contained in four programs:

  • Oxygenated Fuels Program,
  • Highway Diesel Fuel Program,
  • Reformulated Fuels Program, and
  • Leaded Gasoline Removal Program.

Additional programs aimed at reducing air emissions from refinery facilities include:

  • New Source Review (NSR),
  • New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), and
  • National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP).

Hazardous waste

A number of wastes commonly generated at refineries are hazardous under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The largest number of different RCRA hazardous wastes are generated during wastewater treatment prior to discharge. These could include:

  • API separator sludge (K051);
  • Slop oil emulsion solids (K049);
  • Other primary oil-water separator sludge, bar screen debris (F037);
  • Characteristic wastes containing chromium (D007) or lead (D008);
  • Dissolved air flotation floats (K048); and
  • All other sludge, floats and used filter bags (F038).

Other potential refinery wastes regulated under RCRA include:

  • Those generated from cleaning of heat exchanger bundles (K050),
  • Desalter mud (F037),
  • Laboratory wastes (F003, F005, D001, etc.),
  • Spent alkylation sulfuric acid (D002; except when used to produce virgin sulfuric acid, 261.4(a)(7)) and leaded tank bottom corrosion solids (K052),
  • Waste paint materials (D001), and
  • Wastes containing benzene (D018).

Spent process catalysts are occasionally RCRA characteristic hazardous wastes for reactivity due to benzene (D018) or for toxicity due to sulfur on the catalyst surface (D003).

Clean water

Petroleum refinery wastewater released to surface waters is regulated under the Clean Water Act (CWA). National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits must be obtained to discharge wastewater into navigable waters (40 Part 122). Effluent limitation guidelines for wastewater discharged for the Petroleum Refining Point Source Category are listed under Part 419 and are divided into subparts according to the processes used by the refinery.

In addition to the effluent guidelines, facilities that discharge to a publicly owned treatment works (POTW) may be required to meet National Pretreatment Standards for some contaminants. General pretreatment standards applying to most industries discharging to a POTW are described in Part 403.

In addition, storm water discharges from areas where industrial activities occur are subject to storm water discharge permit application requirements.

Underground injection

Those refineries that dispose of wastewater in underground injection wells are subject to the underground injection control (UIC) program of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Community right-to-know

Refineries are covered by the reporting requirements of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). Petroleum refineries are likely to use or produce a number of the chemicals listed, including ammonia, chlorine, hydrogen sulfide, methyl mercaptan, sulfur dioxide, and sulfuric acid.

Oil pollution prevention

The Oil Pollution Act establishes strict, joint, and several liability against onshore and offshore facilities that discharge oil or pose a substantial threat of discharging oil to navigable waterways. The Act requires that facilities posing a substantial threat of harm to the environment prepare and implement more rigorous Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Plans required under the CWA (112.7).

Oil and gas extraction

The onshore and offshore segments of the oil and gas extraction industry are subject to different sets of regulations. Onshore, releases primarily are under the authority of EPA. Federal land leases are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the Department of the Interior (DOI). States also impose regulations and play a crucial role in exploration and production solid waste regulation. Offshore, on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), the Minerals Management Service (MMS) of DOI is the designated regulatory agency. MMS oversees leasing operations and shares responsibility for environmental regulation with EPA.