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  Mercury in Petroleum and Natural Gas: Estimation of Emissions From Production, Processing, and Combustion (EPA/600/R-01/066) September 2001
Project Summary

This report is intended to assist in the identification of areas that require additional research, especially the needs associated with measuring the concentrations of chemical species of mercury in feedstocks and waste streams associated with the oil and gas industry. Acquisition of additional information will be necessary if the magnitudes of mercury emissions associated with U.S. petroleum and natural gas are to be estimated accurately.

Mercury is a trace component of all fossil fuels, including natural gas, gas condensates, crude oil, coal, tar sands, and other bitumens. The use of fossil hydrocarbons as fuels provides the main opportunity for releasing emissions of the mercury they contain into the atmospheric environment, but other avenues also exist in production, transportation, and processing systems. These other avenues may provide mercury directly to air, water, or solid waste streams. This document examines mercury, in liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons that are produced or processed in the United States, for the purpose of estimating emissions of mercury from petroleum and natural gas.

Although the amount of petroleum and natural gas processed and consumed in the United States is very large, only a limited amount of information is available on mercury in gas and oil processed domestically. This report compiles existing information and data on mercury in petroleum and natural gas and examines current information on the amount of mercury in petroleum and gas produced in and imported to the U.S. In addition, the distribution and transformation of mercury in production, transportation, and processing are considered relative to the determination of mercury in air emissions, wastewater, and products from oil and gas processing facilities. Finally, the fate of mercury in combusted gas and liquid fuel products is examined.

The mercury associated with petroleum and natural gas production and processing enters the environment primarily via solid waste streams (i.e., drilling and refinery waste) and combustion of fuels. In total, the amount may exceed 10,000 kilograms yearly, but the current estimates are uncertain because of a lack of statistical data. The amount of mercury in solid wastes versus atmospheric emissions from combustion is estimated to be roughly equal. Solid waste streams likely contain a much higher fraction of mercuric sulfides or other insoluble compounds than water soluble species and thus the bioavailability of mercury from this category is more limited than that which is derived from combustion.


David Kirchgessner

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