Regulations Respecting Reduction in the Release of Volatile Organic Compounds (Petroleum Sector): strategic environmental assessment

A review of the potential environmental impacts of proposed regulations on volatile organic compounds.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as petroleum and refinery gases (PRGs), pose health and environmental risks to Canadians. Facilities in the petroleum and petrochemical sectors release VOCs. The main source of unintended VOC releases from these sectors is leaks from process equipment. These leaks also cause financial losses for facilities.

VOCs contribute to smog. Smog has negative effects on human health. It increases the risks for a wide range of health problems. For example, it can cause lung problems, heart problems, and lead to early death. A decrease in VOC releases may also:

  • benefit the health of forests
  • decrease the risks of illness or early death in wildlife or farm animals
  • increase the ability of plants to produce and store food
  • decrease the exposure of plants to diseases, insects, harsh weather, and other pollutants
  • increase the passage of sunlight

PRGs may contain cancer-causing substances that pose risks to Canadians living near petroleum and petrochemical facilities.

Measures are already in place in some Canadian provinces to limit unintended VOC releases from facilities in the petroleum and petrochemical sectors. These measures include leak detection and repair (LDAR) programs. Most existing LDAR programs focus on large leaks and require annual inspections for most equipment. These programs could allow large leaks to continue for long periods of time before they are detected and repaired. Timely detection and repair of leaks is critical, because even low levels of the cancer-causing substances in PRGs can harm human health. The existing measures are inadequate to minimize human exposure.

The objectives of the proposed Regulations Respecting Reduction in the Release of Volatile Organic Compounds (Petroleum Sector) are to:

  • decrease unintended VOC releases from equipment leaks at petroleum and petrochemical facilities in Canada
  • decrease exposure to the cancer-causing substances in PRGs
  • improve the health of humans and the environment by decreasing smog formation
  • have consistent VOC and PRG risk management measures for all facilities
  • complement existing measures in other jurisdictions

The proposed regulations would apply to petroleum refineries, upgraders and certain petrochemical facilities in Canada. They would require the operator of each affected facility to:

  • put in place a comprehensive LDAR program with more frequent inspections and repairs for both large and small leaks
  • ensure that equipment is designed and operated in a way that will prevent leaks
  • monitor the concentration of certain VOCs around the edge of the facility
  • put in place record-keeping and reporting activities

The proposed regulations would decrease releases of VOCs, PRGs and certain cancer-causing substances. Decreases in releases of VOCs and improved air quality are expected to improve human health and the quality of the environment.

The proposed regulations would contribute to the 2016 to 2019 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy (FSDS) goal “Safe and healthy communities”. They will support the FSDS targets of decreasing air pollution and protecting Canadians from harmful substances. This ensures that Canadians live in clean, safe environments that contribute to their health and well-being.

It is likely that the improvement in air quality from the proposed regulations would lead to fewer early deaths. In addition, better air quality is likely to result in fewer days of:

  • asthma symptoms
  • decreased activity
  • breathing difficulties

The provinces with the largest populations and the highest levels of population exposure will get the most health benefits.

If the regulations are finalized and implemented, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) will analyze the decrease in VOC releases brought about by the regulations. They will analyse if it varied from what was expected. ECCC will enforce the proposed regulations’ measures.

ECCC will measure outcomes to determine if they are achieving the intended effects. Progress and results of the measures will be provided to Canadians in a variety of ways, including:

  • Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 Annual Report
  • departmental performance reports
  • federal or departmental sustainable development strategies
  • internal and external publications, mail-outs, websites
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