The Obama administration and Ohio-based refinery operator Marathon Petroleum Corp. said on Thursday they have reached an agreement under which Marathon will spend nearly $335 million to reduce gas flare air pollution at its refineries in Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan and Ohio.

Central to the agreement, which is technically the first amendment to a 2012 consent decree against the Findlay, OH-based refiner, is a requirement that Marathon spend $319 million for seven state-of-the-art flare gas recovery systems to capture and recycle gases that otherwise would be sent to combustion devices for flaring into the atmosphere at each of the specified facilities.

Marathon’s obligations under the 2012 agreement to provide high flare combustion efficiency eventually will be replaced by its obligation to comply with the 2015 EPA rule on flare combustion efficiency, federal officials said. At four of the refineries, compliance with the latest EPA standard related to sulfur dioxide (SO2) will be extended for a limited period.

NGI‘s Shale Daily contacted Marathon for reaction to the latest flare agreement, but the company had no immediate response.

The U.S. Justice Department’s (DOJ) John Cruden, assistant attorney general for the environment and natural resources division, said the deal continues “significant pollution reductions” achieved under the earlier consent decree. “All five communities near these refineries will breathe cleaner air as a result.”

DOJ and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fashioned the agreement with Marathon, which was filed on Thursday in the U.S. District Court in Detroit, amending the 2012 consent decree on the refiner’s flares.

“When companies like Marathon install state-of-the-art pollution controls, they reduce air pollution in some of our most vulnerable communities,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator in EPA’s enforcement/compliance assurance office. Giles said the update of the 2012 agreement helps protect communities all over, and particularly in places like Detroit that are “overburdened by pollution.”

DOJ officials in Michigan called the agreement another step toward progress in environmental justice, an increasingly relevant part of the regulatory movement’s impact on urban-based energy facilities and infrastructure at a time when the Obama administration has put increased emphasis on methane emissions reductions nationally (see Shale Daily, May 12).

Four years ago, Marathon agreed to reduce air pollution from flares by generating less waste gas and by installing more efficiently burning flares at six refineries it owned at the time, and that reportedly results in more than 5,200 tons annually of reduced emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and SO2.

Under the latest agreement when fully implemented by Marathon, federal officials calculate the reduction in harmful air pollutants, such as VOCs, SO2 and nitrogen oxides (NOx), will total 1,037 tons annually.

Marathon will install the seven FGRS systems on 13 flares at five of its refineries in Canton, OH; Catlettsburg, KY; Detroit; Garyville, LA; and Robinson, IL.

“Marathon also will be required to operate the FGRSs at a higher percentage of time than EPA has ever secured in prior enforcement actions,” a DOJ spokesperson said. “It will also maintain two duplicates of critical spare parts [complete interchangeable FGRS compressors] to be delivered immediately to any of these refineries as necessary to help make sure the FGRSs have minimal downtime.”

In addition to spending $319 million for the flare gas recovery systems, Marathon is also required to spend $15.55 million for three mitigation projects — shutdown of a flare at the Detroit facility ($6 million), NOx controls at a Louisiana plant ($3.25 million), and NOx controls at an Ohio refinery ($6.3 million).