New California Regulations Improve Safety at Oil Refineries

Press Release from CalEPA

New California Regulations Improve Safety at Oil Refineries

For Immediate Release:
August 4, 2017

Media Contacts:
Erika Monterroza, California Department of Industrial Relations
(510) 286-1161, EMonterroza@dir.ca.gov

Alex Barnum, California Environmental Protection Agency
(916) 324-9670, Alex.Barnum@calepa.ca.gov


Sacramento — State agencies today announced final approval of new regulations to strengthen workplace and environmental safety at oil refineries across the state. The regulations take effect on October 1, 2017.

The regulations implement key recommendations of the Governor’s Interagency Working Group on Refinery Safety, created after the Aug. 6, 2012 Chevron refinery fire. They are the result of a multi-year effort, including extensive public input and consultation with workers, industry, non-governmental organizations, local agencies, and communities.

Developed by the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR), the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) and the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA), the regulations make California refineries safer for both workers and surrounding communities.

“California now leads the nation in protecting the safety and health of refinery workers and people in nearby communities,” said David M. Lanier, Secretary of the Labor and Workforce Development Agency.

The new regulations overhaul Cal/OSHA worker safety regulations as they apply to refineries and the California Accidental Release Prevention program (CalARP), which is designed to prevent the accidental release of hazardous substances that could harm public health and the environment.

“These new regulations increase overall preparedness, provide greater accountability and implement a nation-leading approach to public safety and emergency prevention at refineries,” said California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci.

“The goal of these regulations is to hold refineries accountable for the safety of workers and communities,” said Matthew Rodriquez, California Secretary for Environmental Protection. “Thanks to input from refinery workers, industry leaders and environmental and community organizations, we can better anticipate problems and prevent accidents that might pose serious risks to the public and environment.”

Key features of the regulations include:

  • Increased employer accountability for the mechanical integrity of refinery equipment
  • Requirements to adopt inherently safer designs and systems to the greatest extent feasible
  • Increased employee involvement in all aspects of the safety and prevention program
  •  Periodic workplace safety culture assessments to evaluate whether management is appropriately emphasizing safety over production pressures
  • Authority for refinery personnel to shut down a unit, if needed, in the event of an unsafe condition or emergency and provisions for anonymous reporting of safety hazards
  • Requirements for investigations to determine root causes of any incidents that occur and develop interim and permanent corrective measures in response
  • Annual public reporting of refinery safety metrics under CalARP

California has 15 oil refineries, most of which are located in densely populated areas of Los Angeles and the eastern San Francisco Bay Area. During the past decade, many of these refineries have adopted some of the practices outlined above and have seen significant improvement in safety performance as a result.

However, the industry still experiences major incidents that pose a significant risk to refinery workers and nearby communities. For example, a February 2015 explosion at the Torrance refinery sent ash raining down on nearby communities and shut down most of the facility for more than a year. Unplanned incidents at refineries also cause disruptions to fuel supplies that are estimated to cost Californians an average of $800 million a year.

Following the 2012 Chevron refinery fire, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. called for an Interagency Working Group to examine ways to improve public and worker safety through enhanced oversight of refineries and strengthen emergency preparedness in anticipation of any future incident. The Working Group consisted of participants from 13 agencies and departments, as well as the Governor’s office.

Over an eight-month period, the Working Group met with multiple stakeholders, including representatives from industry, labor, communities, the environment, academia, and local emergency response. It also worked closely with the Contra Costa County Health Services Hazardous Materials Division, which implements an industrial safety ordinance that served as a model for the refinery safety regulations. In February 2014 the Working Group issued a final report with recommendations to improve safety practices at refineries and develop more reliable and effective emergency response plans. The regulations implement one of four key recommendations of the final report.

California now has an Interagency Refinery Task Force, headed by CalEPA with participation from DIR, its division Cal/OSHA, and 11 other federal, state, and local agencies and departments. The task force works collaboratively to achieve the highest possible level of safety for refinery workers and local communities, and prepare for and effectively respond to emergencies if they occur.

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Air Resources Board • Department of Pesticide Regulation • Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery • Department of Toxic Substances Control • Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment • State Water Resources Control Board • Regional Water Quality Control Boards

1001 I Street, Sacramento, CA 95814 • P.O. Box 2815, Sacramento, CA 95812 • (916) 323-2514 www.calepa.ca.gov

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Solano County report on Valero near-catastrophic incident on May 5, 2017

Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald and the East Bay Times
[Editor: Note that the Solano County analysis and report was not sent to City of Benicia elected officials nor released to the public.  The existence of the report came by way of a contact for information by KQED News.  See also: KQED: Solano County Probe Finds No Violations in Valero Refinery Outage.   For details, download the Solano County Incident Report.  – RS]

Second regulator finds Valero committed no violations in May 5 flaring

By Katy St. Clair, 10/24/17, 5:19 PM PDT 
(Chris Riley/Times-Herald)The city of Benicia was given a shelter in place alert and areas south of the Valero Refinery were evacuated after a power outage caused a flare up sending plumes of black smoke across Interstate 680.
The city of Benicia was given a shelter in place alert and areas south of the Valero Refinery were evacuated after a power outage caused a flare up sending plumes of black smoke across Interstate 680. | (Chris Riley/Times-Herald)

A second agency has ruled that Valero Oil Co. did not violate any regulations in connection with the May 5 power outage that sent plumes of toxic gas into the air as the result of emergency flaring.

The Solano County Environmental Health Division could not find any safety or regulatory deficiencies on the part of Valero, according to Terry Schmidtbauer, assistant director of resource management.

“We looked at their processes — did they have safety plans in place, were they handling the chemicals properly? Did they report their emissions, did they have the proper plans in place to minimize the releases?” Schmidtbauer said.

Schmidtbauer’s team found that Valero had followed all protocol, though he said that his agency is still getting new information and that new regulations that went into effect on Oct. 1 will need to be taken into consideration when it examines Valero’s process going forward.

California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) conducted its own probe in May and also didn’t issue any violations.

The event occurred after PG&E shut down two main power feeds to the refinery, which initiated emergency flaring and ended up pumping more than 80,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide into the air. Valero is suing PG&E in excess of $75 million for the power outage, which the power company admits to causing.

Critics of Valero say that the oil refinery should have had sufficient, independent backup power to cover such emergencies, though there are no state or federal regulations that require it to do so.

Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson responded to the county’s ruling by saying that just because Valero didn’t violate any regulations doesn’t mean that what happened wasn’t dangerous and preventable.

Valero wasn’t required to have backup power beyond PG&E and therefore could not be found to be violating any laws when all power was cut off.

“Lack of violations does not mean that we are safe,” Patterson said. “The next step is to have an incident review of what could be improved.”

Patterson has been pushing for Benicia to spearhead an Industrial Safety Ordinance patterned after one created in Contra Costa County that has some of the most stringent oversight in the United States, according to the county’s Health Services division. Contra Costa’s I.S.O. offers another set of eyes beyond regulators that requires refineries to be evaluated for safety and other concerns and then make changes if necessary. These changes and recommendations can vary from plant to plant, according to Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, whose district includes the Chevron refinery in Richmond that was the site of a major fire in 2012.

This year, the Governor’s Interagency Working Group on Refinery Safety adopted the Contra Costa model for its “best practices” dictate for refineries across the state. It went into effect Oct. 1.

Though this new oversight expands the Industrial Safety Ordinance statewide in order to strengthen health and safety issues around refineries, Patterson still wants to explore creating an ordinance in Solano County.

“We need an I.S.O. so that we provide the public’s right to know in an effective and transparent way and that we can have the expertise to assess the status of these programs,” she said in an email.

Although rules, procedures and regulations may be put into place, it is important to have local, expert oversight ensuring that they are all followed, she said. It would also be easier to share information with the community.

“This (would not) give us regulatory authority over the state but could go beyond the state in certain categories mostly dealing with noticing, reporting, investigations, inspections and public right to know,” she said.

Patterson likened it to how water pollution is overseen.

“While the feds and state set standards, and the regional water boards issue permits and violations, the local government has ordinances that apply the standards and collect the fees to ensure those standards are met,” she said.

Patterson is organizing a meeting for mid-November with Gioia, Cal/OSHA and other entities to conduct an incident review of the flaring in May, discuss a possible I.S.O. here, and figure out how closely the new Oct. 1 statewide guidelines mirror those in Contra Costa County.

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California Legislative Summary – October 2017

Repost from the Planning & Conservation League – PCL Insider

Planning & Conservation League’s 2017 California Legislative Summary

Matthew Baker, PCL Policy Director, October 2017

It was a big year in the California Capitol: the precedent setting Cap and Trade program was extended, a major transportation funding program was passed (SB 1), a funding bond for parks, water conservation, and climate resilience (SB 5) was approved for the ballot, and a historic “Housing package” including major funding for affordable housing to address the state’s housing crisis also passed the legislature, after months of deliberation, and was approved by the Governor. By some accounts it was one of the heaviest legislative years in California ever.

There are too many important bills that passed this year than can be described in detail here, but the following are some of the highlights of the legislation PCL was engaged in:

It is a major disappointment to PCL to report that the Governor vetoed AB 890 (Medina). PCL worked very hard with the author and sponsors of this bill in an effort to correct a court-created loophole that has enabled project proponents to use the ballot initiative process to bypass environmental review.  This is a difficult problem, but in the end our team developed a viable solution that had gained wide support. In his veto message, the Governor did indicate recognition of the problem and a willingness to correct it, and PCL looks forward to working with the administration and our partners to pursue this solution.

PCL was also extremely focused on this year’s “Housing Package” which was comprised of more than 15 bills signed by the Governor to address the housing shortage and the growing lack of housing affordability in California. PCL has worked for the past year with a coalition of diverse interests with the goal of identifying housing concepts, appropriate project review streamlining, and financial incentives to accelerate production of the right things in the right place—that is, equitable infill development without displacement of low income communities. While we had concerns with some specific bills, PCL supported the package in total, which represents a significant step forward in the right direction for California’s housing needs.

Some of the more significant bills in the package include SB2 (Atkins) that establishes a long-sought after permanent source of funding for affordable housing, and SB 3 (Beall), a bond for the 2018 ballot for further affordable housing funding. Though more is needed, these bills represent the most significant investment in housing since the dissolution of redevelopment agencies in California. AB 1505 (Bloom) is another long-sought after win for equity advocates, clarifying a court decision to ensure that local inclusionary housing ordinances extend to rental housing. PCL helped to get the language right in SB 166 (Skinner) that requires jurisdictions make a new site available for affordable housing if a formerly identified site for affordable housing is changed to another use. PCL also worked very closely with the bill sponsor, Council of Infill Builders, to ensure that the NIFTY Act, AB 1568 (Bloom), stayed nifty—establishing a unique voluntary financing district mechanism for jurisdictions to fund affordable infill housing and associated utility and transit infrastructure upgrades.

Of the entire housing package, SB 35 (Wiener) posed the greatest challenge for PCL. SB 35 allows for “by-right” approval (a full CEQA review exemption) of housing projects that meet certain affordability and environmental criteria. Again, PCL worked very hard with diverse interests to ensure that this bill incentivized truly equitable infill housing, without displacement, and without urban “greenfield” expansion. While we greatly supported the intent of the author, in the end we found that the final language did not meet that intent and opposed the bill. Stay tuned for a more detailed analysis in the upcoming California Today newsletter of SB 35, strengths and weaknesses in the housing package, and what these implications mean for PCL’s work moving forward.

There were a number of bills which PCL supported that aimed at back-stopping California law with protections we currently rely on federal law for. SB 50 (Allen), imposing restrictions on the privatization of federal lands, was signed by the Governor. SB 51 (Jackson), establishing protections on science and climate data generated in California was vetoed by the Governor.  The farthest-reaching bill in this regard, SB 49 (de Leon), seeks to adopt provisions of the Federal Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, as well as federal workers-rights protections, into the California Code. Due to practical concerns over how such a broad law will be implemented, the bill was held in committee. SB 49 will likely be a two-year bill and priority for PCL.

There were also multiple bills concerning water that PCL was engaged on. We support SB 623 (Monning), which would establish a Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund. The bill was held this year in committee but will likely move again next year. We opposed SB 634 (Wilk), a problematic privatization of a public water agency in Santa Clarita, which the Governor signed. PCL and many others strongly opposed the last-hour passage of AB 313 (Gray), which would have restricted authority of the State Water Resources Control Board and posed a terrible precedent for the powers of other state agencies. Thankfully, the Governor vetoed AB 313.

PCL is always watching for last minute gut-and-amend bills, and particularly last-minute CEQA exemptions for special projects, and there was one such bill. SB 789 (Bradford) would have given a CEQA exemption to a proposed stadium in Inglewood, raising broad opposition in the last days of the session, and the bill was held in committee.

There were many wins for the environment and social equity in 2017, but there were some loses as well. PCL and our partners are already looking ahead to 2018 to build upon those wins and to find constructive approaches to the many challenges that remain. Stay tuned!

 

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