The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Clean Air, Clean Fuel, Can’t Lose

Kate Wallace

Kate Wallace
Posted November 16, 2017

The air you breathe is the cleanest of the modern era and continues to improve. The EPA reports that total emissions of the six criteria air pollutants in the United States have declined 73% since 1970 and air quality has improved across the nation.

Here’s something many people might not expect: Cars, trucks and SUVs have played a major part in improving air quality – because the fuels they use today are cleaner than ever before, lowering emissions even as annual vehicle miles traveled has grown. That’s a credit to a modern, high-tech U.S. refinery sector that has invested and innovated to improve the environmental performance of its products.

Beyond Regulatory Standards

The industry is committed to developing energy in as environmentally sensitive a manner as possible. Our companies have put their resources behind that commitment, spending $322 billion since 1990 to make their products, facilities and operations better from an environmental standpoint – nearly half of that invested in modernizing refineries to meet or surpass EPA standards by producing cleaner, lower-sulfur fuels.

The same fuel that powers many of the vehicles, boats and airplanes that transport us every day, has helped dramatically reduce air pollution thanks in part to its lower sulfur content. That’s because fuels with less sulfur, which is an element naturally found in crude oil and gasoline, can run in engines with advanced emissions control systems. In fact, from 1990 to 2016, gasoline sulfur levels dropped an astounding 93%. We’ll continue to see these reductions in emissions as Tier 3 and cleaner-burning vehicles replace older models.

Emissions Gif

All of these efforts help ensure that natural gas and oil companies meet or exceed federal, state and local regulatory requirements. But, good isn’t good enough. The industry strives for innovation beyond expectation, developing and implementing new technologies to take refinery operations and refining products into the future.

Research & Development for Reduction and Efficiency  

Technological advances are quickly changing the way companies operate. Step inside the Refinery Optimization Center (ROC) at Chevron’s El Segundo, Calif., facility and you’ll find dedicated experts manning an impressive 38,000-square-foot control room. Designed and built in 2012 to centralize operations, the ROC improves the refinery’s efficiency, environmental output and its reliability. The control room is outfitted with 36 big-screen monitors, 24 miles of communications cables, seven miles of fiber optic cable and two miles of copper electrical systems. The center coordinates information and data collected around a facility with handheld devices, enabling cleaner and more efficient operations.

Chevron isn’t the only company focusing R&D efforts on refining technology. Shell has partnered with companies such as Praxair, Inc. and Merichem Company to market and license a portfolio of designs aimed at improving operational efficiency. One of those designs, CONOx technology, already helps mitigate CO2 and NOx emissions for various industrial applications. This type of collaboration lets experts across a range of specialties to pool resources, institutional knowledge and skill sets to advance innovative solutions.

Prosperity for the Planet

A world-class U.S. refining sector helps produce the energy and products we rely on for more prosperous daily lives. And while there is a lot of heavy machinery involved, the industry is powered by men and women committed to safely delivering these vital resources while protecting public and environmental health. For decades, they’ve worked with experts from the industry, academia and the government to utilize the most efficient and effective technologies that help our planet and people flourish, and they will continue to do so for decades to come. 


Kate Wallace is an associate of research and content development for the American Petroleum Institute. Before joining API she was a researcher and policy analyst at America’s Natural Gas Alliance, and worked on pollinator conservation programs and state wildlife conservation policies before entering the energy industry. Kate graduated from the University of Connecticut with a bachelor’s degree in Resource Economics, and earned her Master of Public Administration from George Mason University. She loves taking her dogs on hikes, travelling and navigating the northern Virginia/DC craft beer and wine scenes with her friends and family.