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 flaringBy Katy St. Clair, 10/24/17, 5:19 PM PDT
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.