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Transcript of Myron Knudson audio

Interview with Myron Knudson - Transcript

My title is Senior Policy Advisor to the Regional Administrator. I’m Myron Knudson, I work for the Environmental Protection Agency in Region 6 which encompasses Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico.  We have 50% of the refining capacity of the United States and 70% of the petro-chemical capacity. So we have always been concerned about how can we monitor air in emissions and leaks from facilities that are producing the products that this country needs.  And so for years we’ve been working in the area of remote sensing with colleges and universities, equipment manufacturers and industry. 

And this particular story that I’m telling you now came about because the EPA set up an Environmental Technology Council on the advice of Congress and others in 2004 and we set up 10 workgroups. One of the workgroups is remote sensing, we volunteered in Region 6 to head that up.  So we had worked, had been working with the University of Hawaii to look at their remote sensing multi-spectral camera, which means it can see pretty much anything that’s being emitted into the air any kind of volatile organic compound. 

So we were at this airport, this guy lands his helicopter and comes over and says “what are you doing?” and we tell him, and he says “well wait a minute, have you seen what I have,” and so he walked over and took this portable device off and came over and proceeded to show us all the vapors coming off all the planes and the cars in the area and we said “oh my gosh we are going to fly Dow Chemical in Freeport tomorrow would you like to drive down there and help us out doing ground testing?” and he said “yes” so that’s where we learned about the HAWK infrared camera, meaning it can see volatile hydrocarbons that the naked eye can’t see.  We proceeded to then ask if he would be interested in us testing that. ORD (Office of Research and Development at the EPA) has a program that tests and verifies equipment and so we got into the program and as we were doing that the refinery groups in America when we showed them what this camera would do they bought some, because they were excited that they could see the releases from the refineries.  They tested it and they could see every volatile hydrocarbon coming out of their refineries.

The companies now, if they can use this technology, they will be able to find the leaks faster.  Basically, just to give you an idea, the present regulations require you to get within one inch of a valve, or one inch of a flange, or one inch of a safety valve, and have your little portable gas chromatograph and you have to sniff it for two minutes to pull the air in it to see if anything is leaking.  It takes generally, in a medium sized refinery, three people and it takes them a year to do the plant.  A year.  You know there’s over 20,000 of these things they have to test every year. With this camera you can just walk out and within 20 minutes you can look at the whole refinery. So they can find the leaks and then repair them.  So that’s the benefit, less ozone.

Two things that are our challenges: one is, what can the camera really see and at what concentration, and then how do we get our regulations changed to allow its use. We went to our air regulators in headquarters and they agreed to start the process of altering the regulations and I’m happy to say that was complete in December 2008 so now the infrared camera can be used.

So where are we now?  We are in the final throes of testing two cameras at chemical plants. What we have found is that they can not see as they did in refineries all the emissions.  We will have one more test and then after that we’ll write a report.  And then, what’s in the future?  We at the EPA have changed our regs and the states will have to change theirs, we hope that occurs soon.  We also hope that somebody’s out there that we can help test a new and better camera that can see everything at these chemical plants. 

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