Appeals Court Rules that Exxon Mobil Must Produce Documents on 2015 Explosion

Statement from Chemical Safety Board’s Interim Executive Authority Dr. Kristen Kulinowski

In a unanimous decision, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday ruled that Exxon Mobil Oil Corp. must produce information to the CSB related to a tank filled with hydrofluoric acid at the site of a 2015 oil refinery explosion in Torrance, California.

On Feb. 18, 2015, an explosion in the fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) unit shook the surrounding area with the force of a 1.7 magnitude earthquake and propelled a 40-ton piece of debris about 100 feet where it landed within five feet of a tank containing thousands of gallons of modified hydrofluoric acid.  Hydrofluoric acid is a highly corrosive liquid that dissolves glass. Breathing it can cause lung damage and skin contact can cause severe burns and death.  The CSB issued subpoenas for information regarding the contents of the tank, siting hazards, and related safety concerns.  Exxon refused to provide this information, and a lower Court had ruled that the information was not sufficiently relevant to the CSB’s investigation.

The Appeals Court agreed with the Board’s position that the subpoenas related to the modified hydrofluoric acid tank were relevant and within the Board’s authority because “the risks of … an accidental release of modified hydrofluoric acid were among the ‘facts, conditions, and circumstances’” of the February 15, 2015, explosion:

The Board is not limited to the “facts, conditions, and circumstances” that caused the accidental release. The Board should look as well to the effects and the potential harm, were a similar incident to occur.

The presence of two tanks full of toxic chemicals on the site of the explosion, very close to where debris from that explosion landed, is among the “circumstances” of the explosion.

The CSB is hopeful that Exxon will cooperate in providing information on the HF tanks to the CSB as promptly as possible, just as it has cooperated in the past.  With this information, the CSB will be able to complete a critical part of its investigation into the Torrance refinery explosion that has been stalled due to litigation.

I would like to recognize the CSB legal team’s expertise and persistence in pursuing the matter, and to thank the attorneys at the Environmental and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice for their excellent representation of the CSB. I would also like to thank the Attorney General of California and the South Coast Air Quality Management District for filing an Amicus brief with the Court in support of the CSB.

The case is The case is United States v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 9th Cir., No. 18-55481, 12/9/19 and is available at http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2019/12/09/18-55481.pdf

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If you have access to the Daily Breeze on-line newspaper, you can get more information on this on their website: https://www.dailybreeze.com/2019/12/14/court-rules-exxonmobil-must-give-feds-crucial-data-on-2015-torrance-refinery-explosion/

Updates from TRAA

    1. Thursday night the TRAA team performed well at the AQMD community meeting on fence line monitoring.  Eight members attended (with short notice) and made excellent presentations and questions to the staff. Together we made the following points.
      1. That HF which is an acute problem should be separated from the monitoring of chronic pollutants. – Al Sattler, Steve D and Connie
      2. That HF is about life-and-death for ourselves and our children, very powerfully underscored by Seth
      3. That community people have sacrificed a lot and are willing to continue to sacrifice – David Poster
      4. Highlighting the test of HF that was done with 8000 pounds showing deadly levels at 2 miles and compared to the presence and settler tanks of 100,000 pounds, showing that it 6 miles (where the meeting was held) we were in the danger zone – a leaflet was passed out to that effect.
      5. That the fence line monitoring system by the refineries had significant gaps (along Crenshaw where the HF unit is) and of course in the event of a major release, a robust system for informing and evacuating the community was needed and not part of the 1180 process.
      6. While the community was present, as well as a representative of Janice Hahn and the El Segundo Fire Department, the Torrance Fire Department and City Council were absent.
      7. We also made some good contacts with other attendees. So thanks to Al Sattler, Connie Sullivan, DeDe Moore, Steve Goldsmith, David Poster, Dr. Gengh, Steve Dillow, Seth Kaufman, and Jennifer from Sup Hahn for continuing to say MHF/HF has got a go!
    2. A member was able to get a $500 donation from a pizza business!
    3. Next Week – December 18, PBF is having an event that we will want to attend – save the date!

      Torrance Refining Company LLC will host a community meeting to provide information about the Torrance Refinery’s fenceline air monitoring system that will be implemented January 2020 to comply with South Coast Air Quality Management District Rule 1180.

      December 18, 2019
      6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
      North High School Library
      3620 W. 182nd Street, Torrance, CA 90504

Cause of Philadelphia fire sounds alarm over aging U.S. refineries

A new analysis from Reuters shows the dangers at refineries across the country due to aging and unmaintained equipment. The PES fire and explosion “stemmed from equipment installed in the 1970s that had been allowed to run to failure”. Remember, the Torrance Refinery has been using HF Alkylation since about 1959.

From Reuters via CNBC (Follow Link for entire Article)

  • Decades-old pipe linked to fire had not been checked-CSB
  • U.S. refineries surveyed by Reuters on average 80 yrs old
  • Some old equipment exempt from tougher rules on new parts

PHILADELPHIA, Nov 6 (Reuters) – How did a piece of piping installed when Richard Nixon was U.S. president go without once being checked before leading to a fire that devastated the East Coast’s largest and oldest oil refinery?

That’s a question safety experts and activists are putting to regulators after the devastating fire at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) refinery in June, worried more disasters are waiting to happen in an industry reliant on old equipment.

Last year, U.S. refiners processed nearly 17 million barrels of crude oil every day, the most in the country’s history as it cashes in on a boom in shale oil.

But many have decades-old infrastructure, risking outages that could cost the industry billions.

The PES refinery is one of nearly 30 in the United States that are more than a century old, while a Reuters review of over 100 operating U.S. refineries that process more than 10,000 barrels of crude oil a day showed they are on average 80 years old. 1/8GRAPHIC: Aging U.S. refineries: https://tmsnrt.rs/33guhA8

Refineries frequently update their systems and replace old parts, but the PES fire, along with incidents in Washington state and California earlier this decade, stemmed from equipment installed in the 1970s that had been allowed to run to failure, according to U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) reports.

The suspected cause of the PES explosion has raised fears about future incidents because of the leeway given to refiners for inspecting parts, and because some older equipment is exempt from more stringent standards for newly installed parts.

“A lot of these refineries around the U.S. are quite old now,” said former CSB managing director Daniel Horowitz, who left the agency last year. “That doesn’t mean that every single piece of equipment dates back to the founding, but they are old and eventually all sorts of components can fail.”

The June 21 Philadelphia blaze was linked to corroded piping that had not been checked since it was installed in 1973, according to the CSB’s initial findings. The fire is still under investigation by the CSB and other public agencies.

It caused a fuel leak and explosions that sent toxic hydrofluoric acid (HF) into the air and hurled debris the size of a tractor-trailer across a nearby river, the CSB’s report said.

Shortly after the fire, PES filed for bankruptcy protection.

See more at the link above

Supervisor Hahn Responds to SCAQMD Vote to Drop Phase-out of MHF

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE September 6, 2019
Contact: Liz Odendahl lodendahl@bos.lacounty.gov
o: (213) 974-4444 c: (213) 379-6301

Supervisor Hahn Disappointed in SCAQMD Vote to Allow Refineries Continued Use of Deadly Chemical in Torrance and Wilmington 

Diamond Bar, CA— Today, Supervisor Janice Hahn is speaking out against the SCAQMD Governing Board’s decision to drop their pursuit of a rule that would phase out and ban the use of deadly Modified Hydrofluoric Acid (MHF) at local refineries.  Refineries had proffered a series of voluntary safety measures in exchange for the Board dropping the rulemaking process as well as dropping pursuit of a possible MOU.

Supervisor Janice Hahn voted no on the refineries’ proposal. She maintains that removing MHF is the only way to remove risk from the communities she represents.  The proffer accepted today offers no accountability and no assurances that any of it will actually be implemented.

“I am disappointed in this vote. This chemical is deadly and it is a constant threat. The refineries should implement every safety measure possible – but they will fail in the event of a major earthquake, explosion, or attack.  I am angry on behalf of the residents I represent, and I will continue to fight for this dangerous chemical to be removed from our refineries.”

Modified Hydrofluoric Acid is used in just two refineries in California: the Torrance Refinery and the Valero Refinery in Wilmington.

Liz Odendahl
Communications Director
LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn

Refineries quietly try to end Hydrogen Fluoride (HF) regulation on Friday, 9/6/19

The two refineries using “modified” Hydrogen Fluoride (HF) in California are quietly trying to escape from further regulation of HF by offering to add more water sprays, sensors, and barriers.   But they would only agree to do this do this if the AQMD agrees not to do any further regulation of HF in their refineries.

These two letters are hidden at the end of the otherwise routine Minutes from the Refinery Committee meeting of June 22.  The AQMD Board will be voting on this Friday morning at their Diamond Bar headquarters.

We need you to be there to tell the AQMD Board not to allow this, to continue with developing a Rule 1410 to ban MHF.

To read the minutes and the letters from the refineries, see
page 11 in the meeting agenda: http://www.aqmd.gov/docs/default-source/Agendas/Governing-Board/2019/2019-sep6-017.pdf?sfvrsn=6

When:

9 am Friday September 6

Where:

South Coast Air Quality Management District Auditorium
21865 Copley Drive
Diamond Bar, CA 91765


Carpools:  You are welcome to join carpools to the AQMD meeting.  We will be meeting at Columbia Park in Torrance, Prairie just north of 190th,  leaving at 6:45 am.

More comments:
Water sprays, sensors, and barriers would help control small to medium-sized leaks of HF, but not unexpected catastrophic releases.  The only way to be sure that there will be no massive release of HF is not to have it in our communities.  The Wilmington Valero refinery would make changes sometime in the future.  The Torrance Refinery changes seem mostly intended to protect against a rerun of the 2015 explosion.

We are not demanding that the refineries close.  There are alternative refining methods that would allow the refineries to stay open but get rid of HF.

There is no way to know whether HF has leaked into surrounding communities, since the refineries do not have fenceline monitors.

Long Beach Mayor Garcia Urges SCAQMD to Begin Immediate Phase Out HF

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia has sent a letter to the SCAQMD urging that the SCAQMD “take steps that ensures that proposed Rule 1410 addresses our concerns and begins the phase-out process of MHF immediately.”

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia has sent a letter to the SCAQMD urging that the SCAQMD “take steps that ensures that proposed Rule 1410 addresses our concerns and begins the phase-out process of MHF immediately.”

MRG-re.-Rule-1410-AQMD-6-2019

Click here to download.

SCAQMD Rule 1410 Refinery Committee Meeting

The SCAQMD Rule 1410 Refinery Committee Meeting is 6/22 in Diamond Bar at 10 am. Join our caravan to the event or ride the bus.

JOIN THE CARAVAN TO THE SCAQMD
RULE 1410 REFINERY COMMITTEE MEETING ON
SATURDAY, JUNE 22ND

Meeting Starts @ 10AM

Transportation will be provided but you
must RSVP by Tuesday, June 18th to secure your seat.

Gather at Wilson Park in Torrance
or
the Wilmington Senior Center

Leave time is 8:30am, respectively.
Coffee, pastries and fruit will be provided.

RSVP mjohnson@bos.lacounty.gov &
cc: info@traasouthbay.com

As always, please reach out with any questions you may have.
info@traasouthbay.com

Call to Action: Urge Gov. Newsom to Protect Our Community

Gov. Newsom will soon appoint a new member of the SCAQMD Governing Board. Urge him to select someone who will prioritize our community.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District is the government body responsible for ensuring that the air quality is protected for significant portions of Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and Los Angeles counties. It is managed by a Governing Board consisting of 13 representatives. There is currently one vacancy on the board, and that position is appointed by the governor.

We encourage you to contact Governor Newsom’s office and urge him to appoint somebody who will prioritize protecting the community from pollution, from catastrophic accidents as well as continual low-level air pollution.

Gov. Newsom Contact Information:

Link to Email him:
https://govapps.gov.ca.gov/gov40mail/

Phone: (916) 445-2841
Fax: (916) 558-3160

Mailing address:

Governor Gavin Newsom
1303 10th Street, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814


Possible Messages:

  • “M”HF puts hundreds of thousands of people at risk of death or serious injury.
  • Two local refineries use tons of it.
  • Refineries could not contain a major release.
  • People could not evacuate.
  • Nearby people would have no warning, could not Shelter In Place.
  • Medical facilities and emergency responders are not prepared to cope with a major “M”HF release.
  • Get “M”HF out of our communities.

Call to Action: Request AQMD Committee Meeting to be Held in South Bay

The AQMD is tentatively planning the next Refinery Committee Meeting in Diamond Bay. Urge the AQMD to assist local residents to be heard by holding the meeting in the South Bay.

The AQMD is tentatively planning the next Refinery Committee Meeting in Diamond Bar instead of the South Bay. That plan will make it much harder for local residents to be heard.

Call the Committee Chair, Larry McCallon at 909-864-6861 ext 302 and request that the Refinery Committee Meeting be held in the South Bay, not in Diamond Bar.