Imperial lobbying province over ‘challenges’ with new sulphur dioxide rules


The regulations cut emissions in Sarnia by 90 percent to improve health.

Xavier Richer Vis
The Investigative Journalism Foundation for The Independent

Canada’s largest petroleum refiner wants to talk to Doug Ford about its struggles related to reducing toxic emissions at two of its industrial plants.

In a new Ontario lobbying registration, Imperial Oil said the company is facing “implementation challenges’’ regarding emission performance standards (EPS) governed under Ontario Regulation 88/22.

Last year the Ford government passed a new law aimed at reducing sulphur dioxide emissions from petroleum refineries in Sarnia by 90 per cent, and by about 80 per cent province wide.

Three of the province’s five petroleum facilities are located in Sarnia and all emit levels of sulphur dioxide (SO2) that “continue to be a concern in some communities where these facilities are located,” reads the Environmental Registry of Ontario.

In 2021, Imperial’s Sarnia plant emitted 12,500 tonnes of SO2, the most of any other facility in the city and double the amount of its biggest competitor, Cabot Corporation.

Health Canada has found that ambient concentrations of SO2 present can lead to respiratory and cardiopulmonary health risks.

Neither Imperial Oil nor the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks responded to requests for comment.

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According to the Environmental Registry of Ontario, the decision in 2022 ordered five petroleum facilities including Imperial as well as Shell and Suncor in Sarnia to use sulphur dioxide reducing additives in cracking units immediately, follow new emission limits which come into effect in Dec. 2026 and 2028 in cracking and coking units, sulphur recovery units, combustion devices, and flares.

The companies must have a emission minimization plan by January.

They must report when more than 225 kg of sulphur dioxide in a 24 hour period from a flare, develop and install monitoring systems by January 2024 which must be operational by July 1, 2024, follow performance criteria for flares, operate at least one ambient air monitor for sulphur dioxide near the facility. That rule came into effect Sept. 1.

The companies have to share the information with local First Nations and the Ministry of the Environment.

The new regulation also carries fines of up to $100,000.

Imperial’s Sarnia operations include:

  • Refinery: processes mainly Canadian crude oil to produce gasoline, aviation fuel, diesel, home heating fuel and marine fuel; capacity is approximately 121,000 barrels of crude oil per day
  • Chemical plant: The Sarnia chemical plant produces a wide range of products used in the manufacture of many things that we use every day, including polyethylene, solvents, higher olefins – often used in lubricants – and aromatics, such as benzene used in making dyes or synthetic detergents, and polyurethanes and xylenes used to make plastics and synthetic fibers.
  • Research centre: developing and improving petroleum products and providing new technologies to improve environmental performance