Repsol-YPF and Petro-Peru say they can’t comply with set deadline for reduction in sulfur content of diesel fuel

Refineries operated by Repsol-YPF and Petro-Peru have informed the Ministry of Energy and Mines that they will be unable to comply with a deadline set to reduce sulfur content in diesel fuels, according to daily El Comercio.

The failure to comply with the deadline means that Peru will continue to produce and sell one of the dirtiest diesels in the world.

In 2005, the Ministry of Energy and Mines set December 2009 as the deadline for the phased-in implementation of a regulation that requires a reduction in the sulfur content of highway diesel fuel from its current level of 5,000 parts per million, or ppm, to 50 ppm.

But refineries informed the Ministry this week that they would be unable to meet the deadline.

According to Gustavo Navarro, head of the Ministry’s Hydrocarbons Division, refineries have failed to install fully-functioning desulfurization plants.

“The refineries have told us that it’s impossible to meet the terms of the regulation so quickly,” said Navarro, who disclosed that a new deadline would likely be set for 2013 or 2015.

“In other countries, desulfurization plants took more than 5 years to establish,” said a Repsol-YPF representative. “I don’t know why they thought we could do it any faster.”

Despite the 5 years it has had to meet the Ministry’s regulation, Repsol-YPF continues to produce and sell diesel with a sulfur content ranging between 4.900 ppm y 4.960 ppm – roughly the same levels detected in 2005.

Because diesel has traditionally been considered a “dirty” fuel, recent interest in environmental, health and energy security has influenced a global trend toward cleaner diesel.

Many European countries, as well as some Asian countries have already adopted low-sulfur diesel regulations. Some countries, including Germany, Sweden and Switzerland are in the process of promoting low-sulfur diesel fuels containing no more than 10 ppm sulfur.

When sulfur is emitted into the air, it is released as a gaseous sulfur oxide, which causes environmental damage to forests, crops, and water supplies and contributes to acid rain.

“If the levels were reduced, even to 350 ppm,” said Jon Bickel, from Peru’s Clean Air Program, “then contaminating particles would be reduced by 75 percent.”

In Peru’s capital, Lima, where air pollution is high, diesel desulfurization could contribute to cleaner air and better quality of life.  The city’s air pollution is primarily due to the high number of aging cars and the oversupply of old, poorly maintained public transport vehicles, and has been exacerbated over the past decade by a series of policies and measures that were adopted without careful consideration about the impact they would have on the environment, specifically air pollution and air quality.

Attempts by various governmental agencies, such as the Ombudsman’s Office, and the Municipality of Lima, have been both insufficient and ineffective mainly because they have been isolated and palliative efforts. In her most recent report Merino urged the Municipality of Lima to enforce its Comprehensive Urban Transportation Plan to remove approximately 17,000 old heavily polluting diesel buses to “solve the oversupply of public transport that produces enormous quantities of contaminating gases.”

Merino’s report also recommended that more incentives be given to drivers willing to convert their gasoline powered vehicles to run on Peru’s abundant supply of less expensive natural gas. Other recommendations included that the National Police rotate its road traffic personnel and distribute air filtering face masks, and that Petroperu, the state-owned petroleum company, to reduce sulfur contents in its diesel fuel.

Health effects of air pollution include difficulty breathing, wheezing, coughing and aggravation of existing cardiac and respiratory conditions, such as asthma. These effects, which can also cause subtle biochemical and physiological changes in a person’s body, can result in increased medication use, more hospital admissions and even premature death.

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