Mercury occurs naturally in oil and gas deposits at varying trace levels, depending on geographic location and geologic factors. Mercury has long been known to potentially cause operational issues in oil and gas processing facilities and the industry has developed a range of technologies and solutions to effectively manage this challenge. Despite being a minor contributor to global mercury emissions the industry has become a focus of global scrutiny with the advent of formal United Nations negotiations to develop a legally binding global treaty on the control of mercury in emissions, water, land, and in products, scheduled for completion in 2013.

This paper presents the most comprehensive database of mercury contents of crude oils assembled to date, summarizes the fate of mercury in refineries, and proposes a set of mercury good management practices for the oil and gas industry. This information was developed by IPIECA to provide accurate technical input to the ongoing United Nations process described above. The potential impact of this evolving treaty on the oil and gas sector will be discussed.

The IPIECA database shows that the range of mercury content in over 400 crude oils is 0.1–1000 parts per billion (ppb) with a median of 1.3 ppb, rather than the 10–30,000 ppb range often quoted in summaries of older literature articles. More recent published studies show that hydrocarbon products contain only low levels of mercury, and that most mercury entering refineries is removed as solid waste. IPIECA and its members plan to continue work in this area. One part of that effort involves assembling a Good Practices document dealing with mercury in refineries.

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