Update to the EPA RMP Rule. Part 4: Safer Technologies
This is the fourth post in our series in which we review the proposed updates to the EPA’s (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) Risk Management Program (RMP). This series complements the similar series for OSHA’s Process Safety Management (PSM) standard. The update process for the EPA rule is described in the post The EPA RMP Updates. As time permits, we will review and analyze each of their proposed changes. We will also compare them with the comparable OSHA update — where one exists. An index of the updates so far is provided here.
The fourth EPA item to consider is ‘Safer technologies and alternatives analysis (STAA)’. The pertinent section of their proposed update is shown below. (All comments refer to Scope 3 requirements.)
Prevention Program (Subparts C and D) Safer technologies and alternatives analysis (STAA)
(1) Requiring a STAA and practicability of inherently safer technologies and designs considered for (a) RMP-regulated processes classified under North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) code 324 and 325 within one mile of another RMP-regulated facility that also has a process classified under NAICS code 324 or
325 and (b) RMP-regulated hydrofluoric acid alkylation processes classified under NAICS 324.
(2) Requiring a justification in the Risk Management Plan when STAA recommendations are not adopted.
The following description of the NAICS is provided at the U.S. government census site.
The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) is the standard used by Federal statistical agencies in classifying business establishments for the purpose of collecting, analyzing, and publishing statistical data related to the U.S. business economy.
NAICS was developed under the auspices of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and adopted in 1997 to replace the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) system. It was developed jointly by the U.S. Economic Classification Policy Committee (ECPC), Statistics Canada, and Mexico's Instituto Nacional de Estadistica y Geografia, to allow for a high level of comparability in business statistics among the North American countries.
The corresponding OSHA update is discussed at Update to OSHA’s Process Safety Management Regulation. Part 18: Safer Technology and Alternatives Analysis. In that post we note that OSHA chose to place this topic into the Process Hazards Analysis (PHA) section of their regulation. We suggested that, by doing so, OSHA had moved from analyzing “What Is” to “What Might Be”. We further noted that the typical PHA team is not a design team; it is not a one-minute engineering department. The implications of this proposed change are huge.
The EPA Proposed Update
On the topic of safer technology, the EPA is, as usual, considerably more verbose than OSHA. However, in this case, their proposal is not as open ended as OSHA’s. Nor do they place this topic within the scope of the Process Hazards Analysis element. The EPA requires companies to consider inherently safer technologies only for those process that fall under the named NAICS codes. Their text could also be interpreted to mean that the EPA is not calling on companies to develop new technologies — the agency is merely asking them to review established alternative technologies.
A key part of an oil refinery is the alkylation process. In that process, normal-butane and iso-butane are reacted with one another. Each of these compounds contains four carbon atoms. When combined with one another they form an eight-carbon molecule, i.e., octane. This product, known as alkylate, is added to the gasoline pool.
The alkylation process requires a catalyst. Many refiners use hydrogen fluoride (HF). This chemical is an effective catalyst, but, if released, it can form a dangerous vapor cloud. The language in this update is calling on companies that use HF to justify doing so.
An alternative alkylation catalyst is sulfuric acid. This is not as effective as HF, but it is inherently less dangerous. However, sulfuric acid has its own concerns. For example, its use leads to an increased number of sulfuric acid trucks traveling along the public highways. Risk management is always a balancing act.