Enviro group warns that new US chemical plants will harm air

05 December 2013 21:15  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--An environmental group warned on Thursday that a wave of new petrochemical and chemical plant construction projects driven by recently abundant natural gas resources will cause a major increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) charged that there is a “hidden downside” to newly abundant supplies of US natural gas from shale formations opened by hydraulic fracturing (fracking), citing developing plans for as many as 95 new refinery, petrochemical, fertiliser or other plants that will generate emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG).

The EIP said that while the broad availability of low-cost natural gas from the shale boom represents major gains in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by replacing coal as a power plant fuel, that same energy boom will cause an overall increase in GHG emissions because of new process industry projects.

The environmental group said that project permits issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) since January 2102 under the Clean Air Act (CAA) will result in a 91m tonne increase in GHG emissions, “as much as the output from 20 large (500 megawatt) coal-fired power plants”.

The EIP said that its estimates indicate that “the lower GHG emissions from the electric power sector [due to new gas supplies] will be partially offset by higher emissions from other industries cashing in on cheap and abundant supplies of oil and gas from shale deposits”.

For the US chemicals sector, the EIP said that “GHG emissions from the chemical sector will increase by an estimated 45.8m tonne/year as companies build or expand units that extract ethylene, propylene, methanol and other chemicals from natural gas liquids for use in manufacturing a wide variety of products”.

“Low gas prices have also helped revive the US fertilizer industry after years of flat growth, as gas is a critical to the manufacture of nitrogen based fertilizers,” the report said.

In addition, “the proposed expansion of nitric acid production and other processes used to make fertilizer would increase GHG emissions nearly 17m tonnes, based on Clean Air Act permits issued or proposed since the beginning of 2012”.

“Nitric acid units at fertilizer plants release large amounts of nitrous oxide, which has a global warming effect more than 300 times that of carbon dioxide,” the report added.

The group urged the EPA and state environmental agencies to ensure that companies building the new plants use the best available technologies to eliminate GHG emissions and use better process designs and closer government monitoring.

Paul Hodges studies key influences shaping the chemical industry in Chemicals and the Economy

By: Joe Kamalick
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