Prepare to Clamp Down Tighter on Leaks

EPA is prompting a more proactive and comprehensive approach to reduce fugitive emissions.

By Jim Drago, Garlock Sealing Technologies

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Enhanced Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) programs (ELP) began to appear in consent decrees in the early 2000s for refineries and in 2009 for chemical plants — they promise to become the norm in cases where the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) takes issue with the effectiveness of standard LDAR programs. Designed to systematically improve the quality and effectiveness of industrial sites' efforts, ELP is considered by both the Justice Department and EPA to be appropriate injunctive relief in LDAR enforcement cases.

Significantly, LDAR itself is a National Air Toxics Enforcement priority: "Leaking equipment, such as valves, pumps and connectors, are the largest source of emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and volatile hazardous air pollutants (VHAP) from petroleum refineries and chemical manufacturing facilities… With the large universe of sources subject to LDAR requirements and the high level of non-compliance, EPA will continue to focus on LDAR in the FY 2008–10 air/toxics strategy" [1]. With so many sites still to be inspected, the proposed priorities for 2011–2013 remain the same.

Regulatory History
The U.S. government's involvement in environmental issues dates back to the 1955 enactment of the Air Pollution Control Act. Publication of Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" in 1962 marked the beginning of the environmental movement and helped spur the Clean Air Act of 1963. In 1970 that act was amended to include motor vehicle emissions. The Clean Air Act of 1990 imposed additional regulations regarding emission levels and permits, and introduced LDAR programs to a growing list of compliance criteria.

By 1998, the EPA had realized that LDAR programs weren't having the desired effect. Investigations into fugitive emissions from refineries revealed that actual leak and emission rates were two or more times higher than those reported [2]. The findings prompted the EPA and Justice Department to focus on these facilities and pursue consent decrees.

When the EPA and Justice Department bring suit against a facility based on the EPA's investigative and enforcement arm findings, the parties negotiate a consent decree that may require specific actions to settle the charges. These actions may include equipment and system upgrades, special projects furthering use of new technologies, and implementation of an ELP.

Enhanced LDAR
An ELP begins with defining specific items such as an open-ended line, certified low-leaking valves and packings, and covered equipment and processes. Based on 2009 settlements and EPA presentations, a typical ELP contains 14 parts that vary by site and consent decree.

Part A establishes general requirements of the program — these are in addition to, not in lieu of, existing local, state and federal regulations. If conflicts arise, the more stringent requirements prevail. A plan applying to the entire site under decree is required, and must include a tracking program, personnel roles and responsibilities, justification of the number of employees designated to execute the plan, and an implementation strategy.

Part B addresses monitoring frequency, which can be monthly, quarterly or annually, depending upon component. Existing regulations that require more frequent monitoring obviously take precedence. Pumps and agitators must be monitored monthly, valves and closure devices for open-ended lines quarterly, and connectors annually. Failure to meet the higher performance standards for new and repacked equipment will require more frequent monitoring and associated record-keeping and reporting. Equipment replaced or repacked (per Part G) must be monitored monthly for 12 months after which monitoring frequency can be increased to annually.

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