Category Archives: Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD)

KQED: Details on probe of Valero pollution releases – violations now up to 12

Repost from KQED News

Two Parts of Valero’s Benicia Refinery Under Scrutiny in Probe of Pollution Releases

By Ted Goldberg, Mar 29, 2019
A plume containing petroleum coke dusts wafts from a smokestack at Valero’s Benicia oil refinery on March 23. (Sasha Khokha/KQED)

Two key components at the Valero refinery in Benicia experienced problems earlier this month, leading to weeks of releases of petroleum coke dust that intensified on Sunday, culminating in the shutdown of a large portion of the facility.

The new details on the refinery’s malfunctions are laid out by Valero in a preliminary report filed with Benicia city officials this week.

The malfunctions are the focus of at least one part of an investigation by Solano County inspectors into an incident that led to health concerns for people living near the refinery and to a statewide spike in gasoline prices.

Valero’s report says that the recent problems at the refinery began March 11 when a crude oil processing unit called a fluid coker experienced “operating difficulty.”

Normally, a fluid coker heats up and “cracks” the thickest, heaviest components of crude oil processed at a refinery, breaking them down into material that can be used in diesel or other petroleum products. One of the byproducts of the process is solid carbon residue called petroleum coke.

The problems with Valero’s fluid coker unit allowed petroleum coke dust, called coke fines, to flow to a second unit called a flue gas scrubber. The scrubber cleans out fine particles before they’re released from the refinery’s smokestacks into the air. That process is supposed to ensure that the refinery’s emissions don’t violate air quality standards.

But the coke fines moving through the scrubber unit set the stage for a release of particulate pollution from the refinery — a release that was clearly visible from outside the facility.

“The presence of coke fines in the FGS resulted in a darker than normal plume appearance,” Valero’s 72-hour report said.

Solano County investigators want to know if the scrubber was somehow overwhelmed or damaged, according to Terry Schmidtbauer, the county’s director of resource management.

“We know something’s not operating properly,” Schmidtbauer said.

California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health Cal/OSHA and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District are also investigating the refinery.

After the problem surfaced, the air district issued eight notices of violation against Valero for public nuisance and visible emissions.

Refinery crews worked to reduce the releases and Valero said the situation showed “significant improvement” by last Friday, when the plume coming from the refinery’s stacks “returned to normal appearance,” Valero’s report said.

But that changed the next day. The scrubber “experienced an operational upset resulting in a dark, opaque plume and emissions of particulate matter,” the report said.

A new surge of petroleum coke dust billowing from the refinery’s stacks prompted Benicia officials to issue a health advisory, urging people with respiratory issues to stay indoors.

The refinery began to shut down several units, and the air district wound up issuing four more violation notices.

The powering down of the the facility is contributing to an increase in gasoline prices.

On Friday the average cost of a gallon of unleaded gas in California jumped to $3.59, up 16 cents from a week ago, according to AAA.

Energy analysts and state regulators say the price will continue to rise until operations at Valero return to normal.

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    KQED – Report on Valero shut down

    Repost from KQED California Report

    After Weeks of Issues, Valero’s Benicia Refinery to Temporarily Shut Down

    By Ted Goldberg, Michelle Wiley,  Mar 24, 2019 11:30 a.m.
    Problems began at the refinery on March 11 when a malfunction involving one of the refinery’s units led to the release of petroleum coke dust. (Sasha Khokha/KQED)

    The Valero refinery is performing a controlled shutdown to “improve conditions and minimize risk,” according to a statement from Benicia city officials. The shutdown could last multiple days and result in visible flaring.

    Earlier Sunday, city officials issued an advisory notice for residents with respiratory issues to stay inside after a two-week-old problem at the Valero refinery worsened.

    But now that the refinery is shutting down, city officials and Solano County health officer Bela Matyas says the air quality is safe for residents.

    The problem the Valero refinery began on March 11 when a malfunction involving one of the refinery’s units led to the release of petroleum coke dust.

    A Valero representative said then that refinery’s flue gas scrubber was “experiencing operational issues.”

    The releases prompted local air regulators to issue seven notices of violation against the refinery. 

    Those problems eased after a few days but continued intermittently, air district officials said.

    On Saturday several Benicia residents posted comments on the social media site, Nextdoor, expressing concerns about what appeared to be more black smoke coming from Valero’s stacks.

    On Sunday, the particulate matter in the air increased.

    “The concentration of particulate matter has become significantly higher over the past day. The emissions contain coke, a by-product of the refining process that is made up primarily of carbon particles,” the city’s statement says.

    Benicia officials said testing of the coke dust released so far did not show heavy metals at harmful levels but warned that breathing in air from the releases could worsen underlying respiratory conditions like asthma.

    “Inspectors are on scene working with the facility and with Solano County and making a determination if additional violations will be coming,” said Lisa Fasano, a spokeswoman with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

    The Air District also deployed a monitoring van to drive throughout Benicia to “gather ground level emissions data.”

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      This is where air quality was the worst in the Bay Area in 2018

      Repost from SF Gate

      This is where air quality was the worst in the Bay Area in 2018

      By Drew Costley, March 13, 2019 12:30 pm PDT

      FILE – The San Francisco skyline shrouded in smoke on in this file photo from Nov. 16, 2018, a day when the air quality reached purple on the Air Quality Index (AQI).Click or swipe through the slideshow to see where the best and worst air quality was in the Bay Area in 2018.  Photo: Russell Yip / The Chronicle
      IMAGE 1 OF 14 – FILE – The San Francisco skyline shrouded in smoke on in this file photo from Nov. 16, 2018, a day when the air quality reached purple on the Air Quality Index (AQI). | Photo: Russell Yip / The Chronicle  … more

      Residents of San Francisco experienced the worst air quality in the city’s recorded history in 2018 because the historic Camp Fire in Butte County. The rest of the region was choking on smoke from the wildfire, too. At one point in November 2018, Northern California had the worst air quality in the world.

      During the Camp Fire, Vallejo residents experienced the worst air quality of the year on November 16, the eighth day of the fire, according to the measurements taken by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD). On that same day, several other Bay Area spots also recorded their worst air quality of the year.

      READ MORE: San Francisco AQI jumps to 271, worst air quality ever recorded in the city

      “A few really big events can really affect the air quality in the Bay Area,” Charley Knoderer, meteorology manager for the BAAQMD, said. He added that the frequency and intensity of wildfires in Northern California in recent years is “highly unusual and causes a lot of problems.”

      Kristine Roselius, communications manager for the BAAQMD, said that climate change is “supercharging and exacerbating” wildfires in the region. “We’ve got more extreme weather and more extreme weather is causing more catastrophic wildfires that are larger in scale, that are harder to put out, and they put out a lot of smoke.”

      This chart shows the number of times the Bay Area has exceeded the federal standard for PM2.5 (particulate matter) since 2000. Although overall air quality is getting better due regulations, wildfire smoke is contributing to the number of days that a federal exceedance occurs in a given year. Photo: Courtesy Of The Bay Area Air Quality Management District
      This chart shows the number of times the Bay Area has exceeded the federal standard for PM2.5 (particulate matter) since 2000. Although overall air quality is getting better due regulations, wildfire smoke is contributing to the number of days that a federal exceedance occurs in a given year. Photo: Courtesy Of The Bay Area Air Quality Management District

      Outside of the historically bad air quality of November 2018, where in the Bay Area do we find the worst air quality? SFGATE averaged the highest recorded Air Quality Index (AQI) ratings to start to get an idea of where it was the worst.

      Click through the slideshow at the top of this story to see where air quality was best and worst in 2018.

      The AQI is a combination of air quality measures – carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particulate matter and sulfur dioxide – taken by the BAAQMD.

      Knoderer said traffic congestion is the largest contributor to poor ambient air quality. The amount of traffic in West Oakland and near Laney College, along with action along the Port of Oakland, make the air quality in the area so poor.

      Ambient is a key distinction from the moments, like during a wildfire, when there’s unusually poor air quality. Knoderer pointed out that if it hadn’t been for the smoke from the Camp Fire, the Bay Area would not have had any days that exceeded federal standards for the level of particulate matter in the air last year.

      ALSO: N95, P100: What do all these mask numbers mean and how do I know it’s keeping me safe?

      “We generally have two seasons that affect air pollution differently,” Koderer said. “You have summer, when ozone is the primary pollutant, primarily from cars. And then you have the winter, which is primarily particulate matter or PM2.5, and that’s more local forces like fireplaces.”

      Roselius added, “Wood fires are the number one source of winter time air pollution.”

      This chart shows the number of days the the Bay Area has exceeded the state and national standards for ozone since 1974. Photo: Courtesy Of The Bay Area Air Quality Management District
      This chart shows the number of days the the Bay Area has exceeded the state and national standards for ozone since 1974.  Photo: Courtesy Of The Bay Area Air Quality Management District

      The good news is that most of the monitoring stations in the Bay Area had monthly averages of particulate matter – different from the average of all of the monthly AQI highs – that were all under the federal health standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter per day.

      Two of the three monitoring sites with the highest monthly averages in 2018 were in Oakland, at Laney College and West Oakland. The other was on Owens Court in Pleasanton. All three sites averaged 14.4 micrograms per cubic meter per day last year.

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        Complaints Over Latest Flaring Event At Chevron Richmond Refinery

        Repost from KPIX5 CBS SF Bay Area

        Complaints Over Latest Flaring Event At Chevron Richmond Refinery

        March 18, 2019 at 1:26 pm
        Image result for chevron richmond refinery
        Chevron Richmond Refinery

        RICHMOND (CBS SF) – Four members of the public filed complaints with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District over flaring observed at the Chevron Richmond Refinery over the weekend.

        The air district sent inspectors to the scene Sunday, and they are continuing to investigate the flaring, which Chevron said was caused by an upset in a process unit.

        District spokeswoman Kristine Roselius said that so far, no notices of violation have been issued with regard to the incident, but detailed information about what chemicals were released into the air and why may not be available for months.

        Roselius referred to flares as a safety device, burning very hot to protect public health by pushing the emissions high into the atmosphere to minimize their effect on nearby communities.

        In a statement issued Sunday by Chevron spokesman Braden Reddall, the oil giant reassured neighbors that there was no environmental or health risk, and that flares are used to “relieve pressure during the refining processes.”

        Members of the community interested in monitoring air quality around the refinery can do so at www.fenceline.org/richmond.

        Sunday’s flaring is just the latest in a string of such occurrences, with eight flaring events reported in 2018 as well as incidents in January and February of this year. The latest reports of flaring

        Air district officials have said each one is under investigation, but that in most of the 2018 incidents, the flares were burning off hydrogen, which burns very clean.

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