Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: email@example.com
Two California air quality management districts have taken the lead in regulating flaring at oil refineries.
Flaring occurs when refineries burn off excess gases that have built up within their facilities. Although flaring is sometimes a necessary safety procedure, air quality officials say that some refineries rely on it too much, allowing too many pollutants to enter the air.
In July, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District became the first district in the nation to regulate flaring. Under the new rules, refineries must develop annual plans to limit the practice. After any major flaring incident, refineries must formally explain to officials the causes of the incident. "The rule tries to incorporate a continuous improvement process," says Daniel Belik, rule development manager for the Bay Area District.
The Los Angeles-based South Coast Air Quality Management District intends to impose even tougher regulations. "We are going full speed ahead with our rule development," says Laki Tisopulos, assistant deputy executive officer in charge of new rules for the South Coast District. In addition to requiring management plans similar to those imposed by their neighbors to the north, South Coast officials are designing emissions targets. Under the proposal, refineries that fail to meet the targets would be subject to mitigation fees that could run as high as $25,000 per failure, although the fees would be waived during disasters such as earthquakes.
In recent years, both districts have seen substantial reductions in flaring as a result of monitoring regimens they had already imposed on refineries. In 1998, the South Coast District became the first in the nation to monitor flaring.