Bank of Best Practices
Cross-cutting theme: Environment
Synopsis: In compliance with its commitment to the environment, Ecopetrol reached the milestone of delivering international quality diesel throughout the country starting in 2013, thus contributing to improve the quality of the air that Colombians breathe
Clean Air; Environmental Commitment
At Ecopetrol, corporate responsibility is an essential part of the corporate strategy, because it contributes to guarantee business sustainability by adding social and environmental dimensions to the value offer of the company. This principle is intended for the company to be in harmony and balance with the groups of interest and the environment.
To guarantee a sustainable environment management, Ecopetrol has set out to work on four areas, to-wit: eco-efficiency, biodiversity, climate change and clean fuels.
On this last line of action, Ecopetrol has led a comprehensive program to improve quality of fuels, particularly diesel, which the company produced at two of its main refineries, Barrancabermeja and Cartagena. The program is called "Aire Limpio" (Clean Air) and has a favorable impact on the entire Colombian population, especially in large cities where the heaviest traffic of motor vehicles takes place.
From its inception, the aim of the program has been contributing to improve air for Colombian population by reducing sulfur levels contained in diesel, the fuel which feeds more than the half of the automotive park circulating on national and local roads, especially mass passenger and load transportation means.
Since this fuel is heavier and thicker than gasoline, diesel produces stronger effects on emissions to the environment, i.e. more pollution. This fact, along with the growing increase in diesel demand, made Ecopetrol focus its clean fuel strategy on cutting back diesel sulfur content.
For Ecopetrol, it is clear that improving the quality of diesel is just one element of an entire strategy including multiple actors, which paves the way for new vehicle technologies that better process fuels and are less pollutant.
Clean Diesel is here
The most important milestone of this strategy to improve fuel quality was reached in early 2013, when sulfur content of diesel distributed by Ecopetrol throughout the country was reduced to less than 50 parts per million, thus placing Colombia at the head of countries with the best quality fuels in Latin America, only behind Chile. Furthermore, this level placed the country at the forefront of the strictest environmental legal frameworks implemented by the majority of the developed countries.
"With the introduction of this type of diesel, Colombia enters the era of clean, environmentally friendly fuels, suitable for vehicles with peak technologies and which have proven to be effective to reduce polluting gases and the so-called particulate matter, thus making a direct contribution to the quality of air breathed by Colombians", Javier Gutierrez, Ecopetrol CEO, pointed out.
To the company, having introduced clean diesel into the Colombian market meant the culmination of a socially responsible practice that has been gradually implemented over the course of two decades, when said fuel had sulfur contents of about 5,000 ppm.
Step by Step
In this progressive improvement process, levels of 3,000 and 2,000 ppm were reached in the first decade of the 21st century; to further optimize the fuel quality, a special hydrotreatment plant was put into operation at Barrancabermeja Refinery, which demanded investments for US$1.0 billion and allowed fuel with a content of 50 ppm of sulfur to be distributed in Bogota (the capital of the country), the Aburrá Valley and the mass transportation system. At that time, diesel containing 500 ppm was being distributed in the rest of the country.
In the process to lower sulfur levels to 50 ppm for the entire country, different areas, departments, technical divisions of vice-presidencies of the company related to supply, marketing, domestic and international commercialization, logistics and transportation areas of Ecopetrol, were involved.
All of them, along with the support by dozens of contractors that share Ecopetrol´s environmental responsibility commitment, have been developing two major infrastructure projects, namely modernization and expansion of Barrancabermeja and Cartagena refineries, with which the supply of 50 ppm diesel is guaranteed for the coming years.
While these infrastructure projects are being completed, Ecopetrol is importing close to 39,000 b/d. Diesel demand in Colombia presently exceeds 110,000 b/d.
In this kind of projects, each step taken requires major investments that have to be accurately planned. Investments in the hydrotreatment plant and the Barrancabermeja and Cartagena projects exceed US$ 9.0 billion, thus making them the highest that any industry has ever made in Colombia´s history.
The clean air program launched by Ecopetrol to improve air quality in Colombia must be complemented, because it has been proved that fuel is not the only factor involved in pollution.
After guaranteeing this remarkable decrease in diesel sulfur levels, Ecopetrol believes that assuring management of the other factors involved in air deterioration is important, as well as other factors such as the age of the automotive park, the condition of the road networks, motor vehicle technology, the emission from sources like industry and even poor driving practices, among others, because all of them have a significant impact on the deterioration of air quality in large cities in Colombia.
Likewise, moving forward in the strengthening of a permanent monitoring system of the quality of the different emitting sources impacting air quality is important.