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SAN FRANCISCO -- Oil refineries here will be operating under increased scrutiny after the region's air pollution agency yesterday adopted one of the nation's most stringent rules regulating refinery emissions.
The new rule, passed by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, requires oil refineries to systematically monitor and report the release of pollutants from "flares" -- safety devices used to burn excess gas emitted from factories. The agency hopes to use the information to reduce such pollution, the Associated Press reported.
The oil industry supports the rule because it provides standard for oil companies to measure emissions and to adopt monitoring equipment, said Dennis Bolt, the Bay Area representative for the Western States Petroleum Association (WPMA). He hopes it will help the industry address criticism about the environmental impact of refineries.
"The importance of monitoring is to prove that emissions from refinery flares are not an environmental problem for the Bay Area or communities near refineries," Bolt said.
The agency adopted the rule after Bay Area communities complained about emissions from oil refineries and a study released last year found higher-than-expected amounts of pollution released from local flare stacks. The new regulation will affect 25 flare stacks at the region's five major oil refineries, including a Chevron facility in Richmond, a Shell refinery in Martinez and a Valero plant in Benicia.
All the nation's nearly 200 oil refineries are required to use flares to burn off pollutants released during the oil refining process. Flames from flare stacks can rise up to 20 feet high and spew black smoke when gas is not burned completely, usually during accidents or maintenance, the report said. Most cities do not require oil refineries to monitor or report pollution from flare stacks. In recent years, the Los Angeles area's air pollution agency has required oil refineries to monitor the volume of flare emissions.
Under the Bay Area's new rule, oil refineries will be required to monitor not only the volume of pollution, but also its composition and causes. The oil firms will need to provide monthly reports to the agency and to record flare activity by video for future investigations.