Tag Archives: Chevron Richmond Refinery

63 hours of “unscheduled flaring” at Valero Benicia; 3 bay area refinery flaring problems investigated

Repost from KQED News
[Editor:  Significant quote for Benicia: “Last Friday afternoon there was a problem at the Valero refinery in Benicia, prompting the facility to send out flares for at least the next 63 hours.  The “unscheduled flaring” released more than 500 pounds of sulfur dioxide into the air…The company will not answer any questions about the incident.”

Local Air Regulators Investigating Three Separate Recent Refinery Problems

By Ted Goldberg, June 30, 2016 (Updated 8:30 a.m., Friday to include more details of Tuesday’s upset at the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo.)

Bay Area air regulators are looking into several recent malfunctions at Chevron’s Richmond refinery, Valero’s Benicia facility and the Phillips 66 plant in Rodeo that led each facility to send flares into the sky.

All three companies, though, are releasing little information about what caused the problems.

The most recent plant upset took place at the Phillips 66 refinery on Tuesday evening.

One of the facility’s cooling devices shut down at 6:20 p.m., prompting flaring that sent sulfur dioxide into the air, according to Randy Sawyer, Contra Costa County’s chief environmental health and hazardous materials officer.

Sawyer said that one of the water pumps that cools gases as they travel through part of the refinery malfunctioned. Initially, it was thought that one of the plant’s entire units had shut down.

The county determined that the incident did not have an “adverse acute impact on the health and safety of the community,” said Sawyer.

The flaring lasted for more than three hours, according to Ralph Borrmann, a spokesman at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

Paul Adler, a Phillips spokesman, confirmed that refinery operations were back to normal but offered no other details.

Last Friday afternoon there was a problem at the Valero refinery in Benicia, prompting the facility to send out flares for at least the next 63 hours.

The “unscheduled flaring” released more than 500 pounds of sulfur dioxide into the air, according to a report the company filed with the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

The company will not answer any questions about the incident.

“It is Valero’s policy to not comment on operations or possible outages beyond what is already publicly reported,” said Lillian Riojas, a company representative.

Flaring is a practice that allows the refinery to relieve stress from inside the facility.

In the recent Valero incident, it’s unclear how long it lasted.

Josh Chadwick, division chief at the Benicia Fire Department, says the flames stopped shooting out from the refinery at 7 a.m. on Monday.

But Borrmann, the air district spokesman, says flares continued intermittently until just before midnight on Wednesday.

That afternoon, Solano County’s Department of Human Resources learned that the operation ended, said Matthew Geisert, a hazardous materials specialist with the agency.

Geisert says his department has no other details about the incident.

That lack of information frustrates local activists who have called for tighter emissions regulations for the region’s refineries.

“What we don’t know is killing us,” said Andres Soto with Communities for a Better Environment. “It’s a deliberate policy strategy to keep the media and the public ignorant of what is going on with these dangerous chemical processes at the refinery.”

A malfunction at a processing unit at Chevron’s Richmond refinery led to flaring for several hours on June 19.

Contra Costa County health officials say the county’s dispatch center got lots of calls from concerned residents, but they didn’t feel the incident was severe enough to issue any serious warnings about it.

Contra Costa , unlike neighboring Solano County, does require more information from a refinery after certain flaring operations.

Chevron filed a 72-hour report with the county’s hazardous materials program that revealed the incident was prompted by a compressor in a processing unit tripping offline. The chemicals released during that operation did not rise above state standards, the report found.

But the company will not release more information.

“I can’t share any more detail than what we’ve provided in the county report,” said Chevron spokeswoman Leah Casey.

On March 29, Chevron’s Richmond refinery had a similar issue that caused flaring. In that incident, residents throughout the region complained of a bad odor. The upset sent sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide into the air.

In the hours after the flaring took place, Chevron did not admit its refinery had a malfunction, other than to say that flaring is an important part of keeping the refinery running safely.

That prompted Sawyer to call on the company to do a better job of telling the public about problems at its local refinery.

“Chevron should be open and say they did have a problem and they’re looking at it and they’re going to investigate it and see what the problem was,” Sawyer said then.

The company said it shared with the public what it felt was important information at the time and eventually filed a report that showed one of the refinery’s monitoring devices had failed.

The air district is investigating all four incidents.

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Activists Detained Hanging “Stop Oil Trains Now” Banner to Kick off Week of Action

Press Release from Communities for a Better Environment and ForestEthics
[Editor:  UPDATE… see later news coverage and photos on KRON4 TV News and a later report with names of those arrested.  – RS]

Activists Detained Hanging “Stop Oil Trains Now” Banner to Kick off Week of Action

Contact:

Megan Zapanta, APEN, megan@apen4ej.org, 619-322-1696
Jasmin Vargas, CBE, jasmin.vargas@cbecal.org, 323-807-3234
Eddie Scher, ForestEthics, eddie@forestethics.org, 415-815-7027

For Immediate Release: Monday, July 6, 2015. 7:00AM
[Richmond, CA] Activists protesting the threat of oil trains were detained this morning as they attempted to hang a 60-foot banner in front of the Benicia-Martinez railroad bridge. The banner reads “Stop Oil Trains Now: Are You in the Blast-Zone.org.” The railroad bridge, which runs between the RT680 bridges, crosses the Carquinez Strait near refineries operated by Valero, Tesoro, Shell and Chevron. The Benicia-Martinez bridge is identified by the rail industry and on the blast-zone.org map as the route for oil trains moving through the Bay Area.

This action coincides with the second anniversary of the fatal oil train fire in Lac Megantic, Quebec, and the Stop Oil Trains week of action with more than 80 planned events opposing oil trains across the US and Canada. Climbers, who are risking arrest to drop the banner, are representing three groups: Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Communities for a Better Environment, and ForestEthics. Baykeeper also provided support for the action.

The groups cite the threat of fatal accidents, increased air pollution near railways and refineries, and carbon pollution from the high-carbon crude oil carried by oil trains. Oil trains have derailed and exploded five times in 2015, including high-profile events in West Virginia, Illinois, North Dakota and Canada.

“Richmond has been my home my entire life. My family, friends, and neighbors are here, and we refuse to live in fear of these bomb trains blowing up our neighborhoods, and we’re tired of living in the shadow of the Chevron Refinery and the oil industry,” said Laiseng Saechao, APEN Member and Summer of Our Power Fellow. “That’s why I’m speaking up, not just to revoke Kinder Morgan’s permit to bring oil trains into Richmond, but also to build community-led alternatives to dirty oil through the Summer of Our Power Campaign.”

“We are facing a triple threat. Oil trains dangerously roll though to burn filthy crude in refineries from Richmond to LA and Wilmington, all contributing to toxic pollution and global climate catastrophe,” says Jasmin Vargas, CBE, associate director. “Communities for a Better Environment is working in communities challenging the worst cases of environmental racism in CA.”

“I am risking arrest today because crude oil trains are too dangerous for the rails,” says Ethan Buckner, ForestEthics, California campaigner. “We don’t need this dirty crude oil and we can’t wait for the next oil train catastrophe to act. Our railways will play a huge part in our new, just clean energy economy, but oil trains have no part in that future.”

On June 30 ForestEthics and CBE released the report: Crude Injustice on the Rails: Race and the Disparate Risk from Oil Trains in California. The report maps the threat to oil trains to environmental justice communities in California, including Oakland and Richmond.

##
APEN advances environmental justice campaigns and policy with the leadership of low-income Asian Pacific American families in Richmond, Oakland, and across California. www.apen4ej.org

CBE works to build people’s power in California’s communities of color and low-income communities to achieve environmental health and justice by preventing and reducing pollution and building green, healthy and sustainable communities and environments. www.cbecal.org

ForestEthics demands environmental responsibility from government and the biggest companies in the world. Visit Blast-Zone.org to see if you are one of the 25 million Americans who live in the dangerous one-mile oil train evacuation zone. www.ForestEthics.org

 

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California oil: Refinery profit margins rise during price spikes

Repost from The San Francisco Chronicle
[Editor:  Significant quote: “A new report from the nonprofit group Consumer Watchdog argues that refinery profit margins in the state rise during price spikes — even when a company has to buy extra wholesale gasoline to make up for refinery downtime.”  – RS]

Refinery ills push price of gasoline up sharply

Higher crude costs add to spike at pump
By David R. Baker, 4 May 2015, 7:23 pm
The ExxonMobil refinery is seen after an explosion in a gasoline processing unit at the facility, in Torrance, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015. Two workers suffered minor injuries and a small fire at the unit was quickly put out. The incident triggered a safety flare to burn off flammable substances. The facility about 20 miles south of downtown Los Angeles covers 750 acres, employs over a thousand people, and processes an average of 155,000 barrels of crude oil per day, according to the company. (AP Photo/Nick Ut) Photo: Nick Ut, Associated Press
The ExxonMobil refinery is seen after an explosion in a gasoline processing unit at the facility, in Torrance, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015. Two workers suffered minor injuries and a small fire at the unit was quickly put out. The incident triggered a safety flare to burn off flammable substances. The facility about 20 miles south of downtown Los Angeles covers 750 acres, employs over a thousand people, and processes an average of 155,000 barrels of crude oil per day, according to the company. (AP Photo/Nick Ut) Photo: Nick Ut, Associated Press

California’s gasoline prices jumped 31 cents in the last week, pushed higher by rising crude oil costs and problems at several state refineries.

It’s the second time this year that California drivers have faced such a steep price spike. And it has some oil company critics livid at a state gasoline market they say is designed to fail.

“This is a problem that only benefits them, to the expense of California consumers,” said Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmental activist who has pushed to raise the oil industry’s taxes in the state. “When you look at an oligopoly, is there anyone there with an incentive to solve this problem? I would say no.”

The average cost of a gallon of regular in California hit $ 3.71 on Monday, according to GasBuddy.com. Less than a month ago, in mid- April, regular was selling for less than $ 3.10.

And while gas prices have been moving higher nationwide, California has by far the nation’s priciest fuel. Even Hawaii currently pays less, with an average of $ 3.20. The national average stands at $ 2.63, according to GasBuddy.com.

Part of the problem lies in crude oil prices, which have risen 34 percent since mid-March. But California’s sudden price surge also reflects unique aspects of the state’s gasoline market that have frustrated drivers for more than a decade.

California uses its own pollution-fighting fuel blends not found in other states. As a result, most of California’s gasoline is made by 14 refineries located within the state’s borders. The state also has some of the country’s highest gasoline taxes — almost 66 cents per gallon. And starting in January, California’s cap-and-trade system for reining in greenhouse gas emissions added 10 cents to the overall cost, according to estimates.

Since only a limited number of refineries make California grade gasoline, any hiccup in production can move prices. In February, Tesoro temporarily shut down its Martinez refinery in response to a labor strike, and an explosion hobbled Exxon Mobil’s refinery in Torrance ( Los Angeles County). Prices soared for four weeks.

Analysts blame the current spike on production glitches at the Tesoro refinery in Martinez and the Chevron refinery in Richmond, which suffered a flaring incident on April 21.

In addition, the Oil Price Information Service reported last week that Chevron took down a key unit at its El Segundo ( Los Angeles County) refinery for maintenance, prompting the company to buy up extra gasoline supplies on the wholesale “spot” market to fulfill its contracts to fuel distributors. A Chevron spokesman declined to comment on the El Segundo refinery.

The price spike may be easing, with the statewide average rising just 1 cent overnight from Sunday to Monday. Wholesale prices are already started to fall.

Consumer advocates have long argued that the oil companies benefit from keeping gasoline supplies tight in California, with too little fuel held in storage for when the next refinery breakdown strikes.

A new report from the nonprofit group Consumer Watchdog argues that refinery profit margins in the state rise during price spikes — even when a company has to buy extra wholesale gasoline to make up for refinery downtime. Soaring retail prices more than make up for the added expense of buying extra supplies, said Jamie Court, the group’s president.

“The oil companies know that even if it’s their refinery that’s knocked out, the higher prices will more than compensate them,” he said.

Court wants the state to require oil companies to maintain a specific amount of fuel in storage, to prevent or at least lessen future price spikes.

The U. S. Department of Energy is studying the idea of a fuel “reserve” on the West Coast — similar to the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve — but has framed it as a way to prevent supply disruptions after natural disasters, such as earthquakes or tsunamis. Tupper Hull, spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association, said California officials have considered the idea before — and rejected it as unworkable.

“Intuitively, setting aside large volumes of fuel from the market is not going to help,” Hull said.

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