Proposed regulations to reduce the release of volatile organic compounds (petroleum sector)

Backgrounder

Volatile organic compounds are air pollutants that often mix with other pollutants in the atmosphere and create ground-level ozone and particulate matter, resulting in smog. Volatile organic compounds contribute to a wide range of human health and environmental problems. Volatile organic compound emissions are present in all phases of the oil and gas sector from extraction to refining, to when fuels are used by Canadians.

Petroleum and refinery gases are mixtures of volatile organic compounds that are emitted by leaking equipment in the petroleum and petrochemical sectors. These gases were declared toxic to human health by the Government of Canada, because they may contain known carcinogenic substances, such as benzene, and because Canadians living and working in the vicinity of certain oil and gas facilities are often exposed to them. This conclusion established a legal obligation for the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change to take steps to reduce the risks to Canadians.

Targeting these sources of volatile organic compound emissions will result in fewer atmospheric releases of petroleum and refinery gases and these carcinogenic substances from 18 petroleum refineries, 6 oil-sands upgraders, and 2 petrochemical facilities across Canada.   

The proposed regulations are not expected to significantly impact the competitive position of any affected refinery as their competitors in the United States already face similar requirements.

Compliance with the proposed regulations will stimulate demand for clean technologies, such as specially designed low-emission valves and infrared cameras for detecting leaks. Clean technologies will also help reduce leaks of crude oil and petroleum products, including gasoline.

Emission reductions

The proposed regulations will reduce emissions of both volatile organic compounds and greenhouse gases. Methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, is often emitted from the same petroleum and petrochemical sources as volatile organic compounds. Reducing unintentional volatile organic compound releases will also reduce methane emissions. From 2017 to 2035, the proposed regulations are estimated to reduce these emissions by   

  • 102 kilotonnes of volatile organic compound emissions
  • 43 kilotonnes of methane emissions (carbon dioxide equivalent)     

These reductions will lead to better air quality and healthier Canadians. For example, between the same 2017 to 2035 time frame, we will see

  • An estimated 43 fewer premature deaths
  • 9 100 fewer days of asthma symptoms among asthmatics 
  • 44 000 fewer days of reduced activity and breathing difficulty among non-asthmatics
  • $238 million in health benefits resulting from air-quality improvements
  • $4 million in environmental benefits such as increased agricultural productivity, reduced property damage, and improved visibility

Complete details on the emission-reduction benefits are published in the regulatory impact analysis statement (May 27, 2017).

Next steps

On May 27, 2017, the proposed regulations will be published in the Canada Gazette, Part I. This publication marks the start of a 60-day comment period to allow Indigenous peoples; provincial, territorial, and municipal governments; stakeholders; and interested Canadians to submit their formal feedback to Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Environment and Climate Change Canada will also consult with these groups in the months ahead before the regulations are finalized. Any inquiries can be sent to ec.covsecteurpetrolier-vocpetroleumsector.ec@canada.ca.


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