Category Archives: Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson

KQED: Valero Flaring Sends 10 to 20 to Kaiser Medical Center

Repost from KQED, The California Report
[Editor: Significant quote: “On Friday, officials said that only two residents called with respiratory complaints, and there was no indication that anyone was hospitalized. But… Between 10 and 20 people went to the emergency department at Kaiser Permanente’s Vallejo Medical Center, according to Kaiser spokeswoman Deniene Erickson.”]

Benicia Mayor Calls For Key Emergency Improvements After Valero Refinery Outage and Flaring

By Ted Goldberg, MAY 9, 2017
PHOTO: The power outage on May 5, 2017, at the Valero Refinery in Benicia lasted several hours and led to flaring at the refinery. Flaring is a process that allows the refinery to relieve pressure – but it can send out smoke and toxic gas. (Craig Miller/KQED)
The power outage on May 5, 2017, at the Valero Refinery in Benicia lasted several hours and led to flaring at the refinery. Flaring is a process that allows the refinery to relieve pressure – but it can send out smoke and toxic gas. (Craig Miller/KQED)

Benicia has to do a better job of telling its residents about major emergencies, the city’s mayor said Monday, after a series of communication problems surfaced in connection with a power outage at the Valero refinery that has caused intermittent flaring since Friday morning.

The city’s government access television station broadcast inaccurate and inadequate information in the hours after the outage and not enough residents could hear the city’s emergency sirens, said Mayor Elizabeth Patterson in an interview.

“It’s really troubling that we don’t have these things in place,” Patterson said.

On Monday air regulators announced that Valero is being penalized for the incident.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which is investigating the flaring, issued four notices of violation to the energy company on Friday, three for excessive smoke and one for causing a public nuisance, according to agency spokeswoman Kristine Roselius.

On Monday afternoon the district issued a fifth notice of violation for excessive visible emissions.

“Valero was preparing for start-up when smoke started  coming out of one of the stacks,”  Roselius said.

A Valero spokeswoman has not returned a request for comment on the district’s penalty.

The refinery’s first full power loss in 30 years started around 6:30 a.m. Friday. The outage began shortly after crews took one of two transmission lines offline to complete upgrades, said Matt Nauman, a Pacific Gas and Electric spokesman.

Circuit breakers opened after a component of a “protective relay system failed,” according to Nauman.

But the San Francisco-based energy company did not directly contact Benicia officials quickly enough about the outage, Mayor Patterson said.

“Why didn’t PG&E call the city of Benicia so that we could begin to think about the consequences of power loss to the refinery 15 minutes earlier than we were alerted by Valero?” Patterson asked.

PG&E says it did tell the city, just not as fast as the mayor would have liked.

A company representative contacted the Benicia fire chief and the Solano County of Emergency Services at 8 a.m., according to PG&E spokeswoman Deanna Contreras, adding that utility crews worked quickly and safely to restore power in 18 minutes.

The outage caused gases used in the refining process to build up inside the refinery. To relieve pressure, Valero sent toxic gas to its flares.

Valero, like other refining companies, emphasizes that the flaring process is a safety device.

At first that process sent flames and a huge plume of smoke into the sky, which resulted in the evacuation of an industrial area near Valero and a shelter-in-place order for two elementary schools.

Even that order wasn’t clear. Initially, some authorities called for the rest of the city, except for the adjacent industrial area, to stay indoors.

“All other areas of town shelter in place. Keep doors and windows closed. Bring pets inside,” said a tweet from the Benicia Police Department.

Minutes later the agency published a corrected tweet, focusing the order on the two schools, but that was not entirely clear.

“No shelter in place for the rest of the (city) except for Matthew Turner and Robert Semple. Everyone’s encouraged to close doors and windows,” the follow-up tweet read.

On Friday, officials said that only two residents called with respiratory complaints, and there was no indication that anyone was hospitalized.

But, it turns out, the toxic air did send people to the hospital.

Between 10 and 20 people went to the emergency department at Kaiser Permanente’s Vallejo Medical Center, according to Kaiser spokeswoman Deniene Erickson.

The flaring continued over the weekend and on Monday as Valero restored operations.

“We may have some intermittent flaring as we continue through safe startup process,” said Valero spokeswoman Lillian Riojas in an email Monday.

Meanwhile, the city has begun a top-to-bottom review of its emergency response, according to Benicia Fire Chief Jim Lydon.

“There are some systems that we need to go back and look at and assess their functionality and make sure they’re working properly,” Lydon said in an interview Monday, adding that he saw complaints from residents about the emergency communication on social media.

After that review is completed, Mayor Patterson is calling for a City Council hearing to explore ways to improve emergency communication.

That hearing would also investigate why Valero does not have a backup power source, something Patterson said she was unaware of until Friday’s emergency.

The afternoon of the outage a company official blamed California’s greenhouse gas regulations for preventing the creation of an alternative power source.

Valero expanded its refinery in recent years to reduce emissions, according to Don Cuffel, the company’s health, safety, environmental director. That expansion increased the facility’s electrical load but the company never got a permit to create a “co-generation unit”.

“Adding another co-generation unit to the refinery only increases our carbon footprint,” Cuffel said at a Friday news conference.

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Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson comments on Valero decision not to sue

By Roger Straw, December 23, 2016

Benicia Mayor on Valero’s decision not to sue

In an email sent yesterday, Benicia’s recently re-elected Mayor Elizabeth Patterson offered the following statement on Valero Energy Corporation’s reversal of its plan to take the City to court:

Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson
Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson

I am pleased that Valero called to say that they would not sue on the crude by rail project in order to maintain good community relations. They are a valuable business in our community.

I look forward to the promise of those good community relations now that we can put this ill advised project behind us.

There are many opportunities for us to work together such as the locations and operations of the local air monitoring that the BAAQMD [Bay Area Air Quality Management District] will be implementing.

We share Valero’s concerns of new residential development on the so-called Seeno site to avoid conflicts.

And lastly I look forward to Valero’s continued proactive participation on our Community Sustainability Commission.

Elizabeth Patterson
Mayor, City of Benicia

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VALLEJO TIMES-HERALD: Valero won’t sue city of Benicia over rejection of crude-by-rail project

Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald

Valero won’t sue city of Benicia over rejection of crude-by-rail project

By Katy St. Clair, 12/22/16, 4:06 PM PST

BENICIA >> The Valero Corporation announced it will not be suing the city of Benicia for rejecting its controversial crude-by-rail project, which would have allowed the company to transport thousands of gallons of crude oil into town.

The project would have moved up to 70,000 barrels of crude a day to Benicia, passing through places like downtown Sacramento and Davis.

Valero first submitted an application for the project to the city of Benicia in December of 2012, but the Planning Commission rejected the bid in March of this year. Valero then appealed to the Benicia City Council, which also rejected the plan in a unanimous vote in September, citing fears of derailment or spills as its main concern.

“The margin of error was just too small and the risk of catastrophic failure too great,” Councilman Tom Campbell said.

In the wake of the city’s veto, Valero seemed primed to fight the decision in court. Benicia City Attorney Heather Mc Laughlin told the city council on Tuesday night that she had previously “heard word” from the Valero attorney that they were “thinking of filing suit.”

It’s been reported that Valero officials believed Benicia’s rejection of the plan was illegal.

It now appears that Valero is backing off talk of litigation. Mc Laughlin announced that Valero’s attorney contacted her and said they will not be going forward with a lawsuit, after all.

“It’s like the best Christmas present ever,” she said to the council. “Yesterday they called and said that they were not going to file suit against the city because they want to maintain positive relations with the city.”

Valero did not respond to requests for comment.

Mayor Elizabeth Patterson released a statement Wednesday saying she is “pleased” with Valero’s decision not to sue.

“They are a valuable business in our community,” she said. “I look forward to the promise of those good community relations now that we can put this ill-advised project behind us.”

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