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/

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

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.

Earth Day Events

DateDayTimeName/ LocationLeafletContactBooth
April 13Sat12-4 pmCarson Earthday Festival
City Hall
801 Carson Street
April 13
Sat
1-4 pm“The Lorax”
Free Movie
Lomita Library
April 17 Wed7-9 pm“Zero Waste” Recycling Panel
Torrance Memoria
West Tower
April 20 Sat9-1 pmEarth Day Beach Cleanup
Cabrillo Beach Marine
Mammal & Bird Center
9-10 am10-11:30 am11:30 am – 2 pmMark F
April 20Sat9am – 2pmWildfest!
Animal Themed
Friendship Park &
Nature Center
San Pedro
9-10am10am-1pm1-2pmAl Sattler
April 20Sat1-5pmEarth Day Festival
Bearts & Bites
Davis Middle School
621 Poplar
Compton
1-2pm2-3:30pm3:30-5pmMark F
Soc Justice Learning
Sierra Club Booth
April 23Tues10am-3pmCSUDH Earth Day
East & West Walkways
Dede, Bill
May 1Wed6:30pmRevitalizing Old Torrance Conversation
Toyota Meeting Hall
3330 Civic Center Dr.
Torrance
RSVP Tim Goodrich
Apr 20Sat12-2pmMarch &
Fundraiser for TRAA
Columbia Park
Off 190th Lot