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US amends rules to allow sale of 0.5% sulphur marine fuel

The Environmental Protection Agency announced a ‘technical correction’ to the diesel fuel regulations to allow fuel suppliers to distribute distillate diesel fuel that complies with the IMO 2020 0.5% standard. Before the change, refiners could sell only fuel with a sulphur content of 0.1% or lower

While IMO-compliant 0.5% fuel can now be sold and distributed under the rule change, EPA said ‘the affected fuel may not be used in US emission control areas’

US OIL refineries will be allowed to distribute and sell shipowners marine fuels with a sulphur content of up to 0.5% instead of only 0.1% after a change in regulations by the country’s energy regulators. 

The Environmental Protection Agency announced a “technical correction” to the diesel fuel regulations to allow fuel suppliers to distribute distillate diesel fuel that complies with the IMO 2020 0.5% standard.

The impending IMO 2020 limit of 0.5% sulphur is not as low as the current 0.1% requirement of the US emissions control area that stretches 200 nautical miles off the country’s coastlines.

But fuels burned outside the ECA zone with a sulphur content of between 0.1% and 0.5% had not been cleared for sale or distribution under US law until the change announced by the EPA. Before the change, refiners could sell only fuel with a sulphur content of 0.1% or lower.

While IMO-compliant 0.5% fuel may now be sold and distributed under the rule change, EPA said “the affected fuel may not be used in the US’ emission control areas”.

The change came about because US refiners could have missed out on a segment of global marine fuel sales, while shipowners could have been faced with the higher cost of purchasing expensive fuels they do not need or of having to sail longer distances to buy the lower-cost fuel they do require.

EPA said that removing the restriction will provide “greater flexibility” for US fuel suppliers participating in the global marine fuel market.

It also said that the change “could reduce fuel costs” for shipowners as the vessel operator would not be faced with purchasing more expensive ECA fuel or going to another country to purchase fuel.

Recent testimony by the head of the US Energy Information Administration predicted that IMO 2020 will have a generally positive effect on the country’s oil producers and refiners. 

The EPA’s tweaking of the regulations to allow sales and distribution of the higher sulphur fuel will likely add to that effect, while still complying with its own ECA requirements as well as those of IMO 2020.

“These targeted regulatory corrections will clear the way for US refiners to provide cleaner marine fuel for ships that sail across the globe,” said EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler. 

“Hitting this key deadline is vital to meeting the terms of this important treaty that protects air quality and human health both at home and abroad,” he said.

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