Category Archives: California Regulation

Newsom orders all California counties to close indoor restaurants, shut down bars

[BenIndy editor: See also video of Newsom’s press conference on ABC7.  – R.S.]
San Francisco Chronicle, by Dustin Gardiner, July 13, 2020
Gov. Gavin Newsom at a coronavirus-related briefing in Pittsburg on July 1.
Gov. Gavin Newsom at a coronavirus-related briefing in Pittsburg on July 1. Photo: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered every county in California to close indoor restaurants, movie theaters and wineries Monday as the state combats a surge in coronavirus cases.

He also ordered bars to cease all operations, indoor and outdoor, throughout the state.

Newsom had previously directed 30 counties on the state’s “watch list” due to surging outbreaks to close business operations in those sectors. But Newsom said the order will now extend to all 58 California counties.

Newsom’s statewide closure order applies to a host of other indoor spaces: zoos, museums, cardrooms and family entertainment centers. Those establishments are still allowed to operate outdoors in most counties, including restaurant patios.

In addition, Newsom ordered the 30 counties on the state watch list to close gyms, churches, offices for non-critical work sectors, shopping malls and barbershops and hair salons.

More than 80% percent of California’s population lives in those 30 counties. In the Bay Area, the list includes Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, Solano and Sonoma counties.

The governor said the order comes as hospitalizations and new cases continue to surge, and some rural counties, such as Placer and Lake counties, are nearing bed capacity in hospital intensive care units.

“This virus is not going away any time soon,” he said. “It’s incumbent upon all of us to recognize soberly that COVID -19 is not going away any time soon, until there is a vaccine and/or an effective therapy.”

Do you have a story to tell about living in a refinery community?

Major Public Health Community Meeting on Oil and Gas Rulemaking, March 9

Sunflower Alliance, February 22, 2020

The State of California is sponsoring a series of statewide meetings where members of the public can testify about the ways the oil industry affects our health and that of our communities.  One of these meetings is being held in Oakland (see when and where below).  We highly encourage everyone with a story to tell about oil industry impacts on you, your family and your neighborhood to come and testify.  We will have two minutes to speak our hearts and minds.

​​The meeting is sponsored by the Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM, formerly DOGGR) of the state’s Department of Conservation.  Although CalGEM specifically regulates oil and gas production (oil drilling), it will share public testimony from this meeting with other state regulatory agencies.

The new rulemaking that results will be based on this important public input, and will consider the best available science and data to inform new and strengthened ​protective state requirements.​

The Sunflower Alliance is making arrangements for free transportation from Rodeo and Richmond to the hearing.  If you need a ride, please let us know at action@sunflower-alliance.com .

See this Facebook post for a recording of the first public hearing in Bakersfield meeting on February 19.

A little more background:

AB345 (currently heading toward the state senate) and the Governor’s own plans require Public Health Rulemaking around the urgent call for 2,500-foot setbacks from oil and gas extraction sites.  The first step is this series of pre-rulemaking community meetings to gather public input.

When you testify about Bay Area oil industry impacts, please be sure to start with a strong statement of solidarity with those folks who are living near oil drilling sites, and express your support for setbacks and AB345.

If you can’t attend:

Written comments can be sent via email
to CalGEMRegulations@conservation.ca.gov
or by postal mail to—
Department of Conservation
801 K Street, MS 24-02
Sacramento, CA 95814
ATTN: Public Health near Oil Gas Rule-making

WHEN

Monday, March 9, 1-3 PM —Doors open at 12:30.  A rally outside is tentatively scheduled for noon.

WHERE

​Greenlining Institute
360 14th St., Oakland (near 12th St. BART)

Solano County Says Valero Benicia Refinery Violated State Regulations in March Shutdown

Valero Benicia Refinery facing stiff fines

KQED California Report, by Ted Goldberg, September 5, 2019
The Valero refinery in Benicia. (Craig Miller/KQED)

Solano County inspectors documented a long list of shortcomings and inadequate procedures at Valero’s Benicia oil refinery that contributed to a major pollution release from the facility earlier this year, newly released county documents show.

The county’s Department of Resource Management documented violations of eight separate state regulations. The infractions included failure to fix important sensors in a refinery furnace unit, infrequent inspections of key equipment, and failure to have an operating plan in place to deal with unexpected refinery conditions.

Solano’s probe relied in part on Valero’s root cause analysis of the shutdown, which found that one of the worst refinery incidents in the Bay Area in years was caused by a mistake made months earlier.

Both reports focused on tubes in the refinery’s furnace that heat up crude oil before it’s routed to other parts of the facility for processing. County and refinery officials say those furnace tubes were damaged during maintenance work last November, which caused the devices to fail and contributed to the plant’s malfunctions in March.

The Valero complex ended up belching out a massive amount of black sooty smoke, which led to health concerns for people living nearby.

The refinery’s subsequent closure contributed to a statewide spike in gasoline prices and prompted investigations by several government agencies, renewing attention on the refinery two years after a power outage caused a major release of toxic sulfur dioxide in the area.

Valero spokeswoman Lillian Riojas declined to comment directly on the company’s violations. Instead, she pointed to the company’s May filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission in which it reported it’s facing more than $342,000 in fines in connection with the incident. The company told the SEC it expects to face $242,840 in proposed penalties from Solano County and $100,000 from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

Valero’s root cause analysis, completed in July, examines a series of problems that led to the refinery malfunctions.

Company inspections during the refinery shutdown found that furnace tubes were bulging and leaking. Valero says when the facility was restarting a unit last November, a safety valve improperly “lifted,” allowing crude oil to bypass one of the refinery’s furnaces.

Valero says “it was not appreciated at the time” that allowing the bypass “exposed the furnace tubes to elevated temperatures.” Extreme heat gradually deformed the tubes and allowed a solid substance called petroleum coke to form inside. Valero’s analysis concedes that the deteriorating conditions were “not timely identified and mitigated, leading to the tubes’ subsequent failure” and the March refinery malfunctions.

Solano County’s investigation reported that carbon monoxide and oxygen sensors in the refinery furnace were not operational for at least three years.

“Proper functioning sensors would have provided an indication that the furnace was malfunctioning to Valero staff, allowing them to act sooner to correct the condition and prevent additional release,” said Terry Schmidtbauer, the county’s assistant director of resource management, in an email.

“The issue with the furnace upset the system,” Schmidtbauer said.

Those system issues became more evident in early March as two other refinery components experienced problems. One was a fluid coker, which heats up and “cracks” the thickest components of crude oil processed at the refinery. Another, a flue gas scrubber, removes fine particles before gases are released from the facility’s smokestacks.

Malfunctions with those devices led to an increase in carbon monoxide levels, according to Valero, To reduce those levels, refinery crews ended up increasing the temperature on the furnace tubes, thus accelerating their deterioration.

There was little liquid in the tubes, which puts them at risk of damage, according to Professor Eric Smith of Tulane University’s Energy Institute, who specializes in refinery operations.

“One result is thermal degradation of the metal tube,” said Smith, who reviewed company and county findings. “Another effect is that the liquid that does make it through the tube is converted into petroleum coke.”

That dynamic led to the release of sooty smoke and resulted in elevated levels of particulate matter and a health advisory.

County inspectors discovered several problems with lines that carry petroleum coke. On the day the refinery was shut down, one was leaking. Valero staff told Solano officials in April another line had failed five times in the last three years.

The county’s Department of Resource Management has ordered Valero to make a series of changes, some of which it has already completed. They include orders to reduce petroleum coke releases, new procedures for preventing the overheating of furnace tubes and increased training.

Solano County’s Schmidtbauer said the department was still assessing what penalties it will levy against the refinery.

Local air regulators issued 12 notices of violation against Valero. Ralph Borrmann, a spokesman for the air district, said the agency’s probe is not yet complete.

An investigation by California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, Cal/OSHA, is expected to wrap up in the coming weeks, according to agency spokesman Frank Polizzi.

California’s top oil regulator sacked after doubling fracking permits

California Gov. Gavin Newsom orders dismissal of state’s top oil regulator

By Janet Wilson, Palm Springs Desert Sun, July 11, 2019, 11:09 p.m. ET
California Gov. Gavin Newsom presents his revised 2019 budget proposal May 9, 2019, in Sacramento, California.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom presents his revised 2019 budget proposal May 9, 2019, in Sacramento, California. (Photo: Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio)

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday directed his secretary of natural resources to fire Ken Harris, the state’s top oil regulator, after learning from The Desert Sun/USA TODAY and watchdog groups that fracking permits have doubled without his knowledge since he took office and that seven supervisors charged with regulating the industry own shares in major oil companies.

Ann O’Leary, chief of staff to Newsom, sent a letter to Wade Crowfoot, California’s secretary for Natural Resources, asking him to immediately make several changes in the Department of Conservation, including firing Harris.

Harris is the head of the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources, also known as DOGGR. He could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.

O’Leary also told Crowfoot to “continue at full pace the investigation you have already started related to the allegations that employees at DOGGR have holdings in energy companies, which could constitute actual or apparent conflicts of interest, and take the maximum disciplinary action appropriate under law.”

Conflicts of interest: Watchdog groups urge California governor to fire oil regulators

Ken Harris, Californiia Oil and Gas supervisor and head of the Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources.
Ken Harris, California Oil and Gas supervisor and head of the Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources. (Photo: Calfiornia Dept. of Conservation)

In the meantime, she directed him to ensure that all employees and contractors who own oil or gas stocks recuse themselves from all permitting decisions pending individual reviews based on new conflict rules that are being formulated.

On Wednesday, The Desert Sun reported the pace at which fracking permits are issued has doubled since Newsom took office in January, and thousands of permits for new and re-used oil and gas wells also have been approved, angering environmental and public health groups who hoped for a phase-out of the state’s billion-dollar industry following the retirement of Gov. Jerry Brown.

The Desert Sun also reported on the findings of two watchdog groups, Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance, who uncovered records showing that top state regulators and engineers held investments in Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP, Valero and other petrochemical giants.

Almost half of the 2,300 well permits issued in 2019 have benefited oil companies invested in by agency officials, the consumer groups said.

Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance uncovered the regulators’ personal investments and permit data through public records requests, and the two groups shared the documents with The Desert Sun and the USA TODAY Network.

“This is a good start,” said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog. “This shows the governor wants to change the culture at the agency to make sure it’s free of conflicts and safety comes before the oil companies’ interests. The next move has to be to hold accountable Mr. Harris’ supervisors, who were well aware that this was an agency that was permitting wells with the oil companies’ interests first in its mind and the public last.”