California adopts ban on heavy fuel oil

ARB measure will require vessels to use marine distillates in California from 2009.

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Updated on 25 Jul 2008 08:06 GMT

The California Air Resources Board (ARB) has adopted a regulation that requires ocean-going vessels within 24 nautical miles of California's coastline to use lower-sulphur marine distillates in their main and auxiliary engines and auxiliary boilers, rather than heavy fuel oil.

The new measure, which will affect approximately 2,000 ocean-going vessels visiting California ports annually, will see an end to the sale of cheaper 380-centistoke (cst) and 180-centistoke bunker fuel in California.

Shipowners are set to experience a significanly increase in the cost of bunkering their vessels in California where the price differential between 380 cst and marine diesel oil (MDO) is approximately $450 per metric tonne. A ship operator requiring 500 tonnes of heavy fuel oil, would now be required to pay an extra $225,000 according to current bunker prices in California.

The regulations will be phased-in over a period of three years commencing in 2009 and ending in 2012. Both U.S.-flagged and foreign-flagged vessels will be required to comply with the regulation which will be the most stringent and comprehensive requirement for marine fuel use in the world.v "This regulation will save lives," said Air Resources Board Chairman Mary Nichols. "At ports and all along the California coast we will see cleaner air and better health."

The new low-sulphur measures are set to result in immediate and significant reductions in the emissions from ocean-going vessels. According to the ARB, approximately 75% percent of the diesel particulate matter (PM), over 80% of the sulphur oxides and 6 percent of the nitrogen oxides will be eliminated in 2009. Reductions will increase as the sulphur content is progressively lowered through the regulation's phase-in plan.

In 2012, when the very low sulphur fuel requirement is implemented, reductions of diesel particulate matter will be 15 tons daily, an 83 percent reduction compared to uncontrolled emissions. Sulphur oxides will be reduced by 140 tons daily, a 95 percent reduction and nitrogen oxides will be reduced by 11 tons per day, a 6 percent reduction.

According to the ARB, the new regulation will substantially reduce the cancer rates and premature deaths associated with living near seaports and trade corridors along California's coast. An estimated 3,600 premature deaths between 2009 and 2015 will be avoided and the cancer risk associated with the emissions from vessels will be reduced by over 80 percent.

In addition, the measure would help the South Coast Air Quality Management District meet its federal clean air requirements for fine particulate matter by 2014 and move California closer to its goal of reducing diesel particulate matter by 85 percent before 2020.

Diesel exhaust contains a variety of harmful gases and over 40 other known cancer-causing compounds. Currently in California, diesel PM emissions from ocean-going vessels expose more than twenty-seven million people - or 80 percent of California's total population - to cancer risk levels at or above 10 chances in a million.

This is the second time the state has tackled the issue of the polluting effects of heavy fuel in ocean-going vessels. The first regulation, passed in 2006, was blocked by the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association and others who argued that the state needed a waiver from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate ship emissions.

The Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, which represents 60 ocean carriers and terminal operators on the West Coast, is said to prefer to wait for the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to carry out any regulation changes rather than individual states.