Whither clean fuel?

the us oil industry has locked horns with environmental regulators over a new proposal to make diesel burn cleaner.

The proposal made by the us Environment Protection Authority (epa), plans to bring down the sulphur content of diesel by 97 per cent, starting from 2007, according to a report in Reuters. This is being done to cut down the toxic emissions blamed for high asthma rates and other respiratory diseases. But representatives of oil companies oppose such a move saying that the epa was going "too far and too fast". They say that such a proposal could cause fuel shortages and escalate fuel prices. Environment groups, however, say that the new epa proposal could save around 500 lives in the us every year.

According to the epa, reducing the sulphur content of diesel by 97 per cent, from 500 parts per million (ppm) to 15 ppm, would allow for more than 90 per cent reduction of nitrous oxides and particulate matter emissions from the roughly 30 million trucks and buses that ply the nation's highways. Relaxing the proposal to allow for any more sulphur would seriously compromise their clean air goals, the agency said.

Oil industry representatives estimate the epa's proposal would cost us refineries roughly us $10 billion in upgradation and new equipment and is likely to bring down the current diesel production by 30 per cent. "We view this proposal as a blueprint for future fuel shortages and severe economic impacts," says Bob Slaughter, general counsel for the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association (npra). "It threatens to leave a legacy of scarce and unnecessarily costly energy supplies," he added.

Oil companies contend that similar "blue sky" goals could be met by reducing diesel sulphur content by a more moderate 90 per cent, a standard that would be much easier and cheaper for producers to meet. The epa said it is accepting written statements on its proposal until August 14, at which point it will close its hearing and begin drafting an official regulation.

Meanwhile in Hong Kong, cleaner diesel fuel could be available in August, four months earlier than expected, according to South China Morning Post. Suppliers of ultra-low sulphur diesel have revised their import schedules and could bring in the fuel sooner, said deputy secretary for environment and food, Thomas Chow Tat-ming. Importing the low-sulphur diesel is part of the government's programme to achieve a "visible improvement" in air quality within 18 months.