Category Archives: Center for Biological Diversity

Air District fines Valero for recent emission release violations

Repost from KQED News
[Editor: Significant quote: “The risk of these tiny particles getting into people’s lungs is yet another example of the dangers of living near a dirty refinery,” said Hollin Kretzmann, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Communities should not have to be afraid of breathing in pollution that could affect their health.”  – R.S.]

Air District Hits Valero With Violations Over Benicia Refinery Releases

By Ted Goldberg, Mar 15, 2019
A sooty plume, containing petroleum coke particulates, emerging from flare stacks this week at Valero’s Benicia refinery. (Solano County Department of Resource Management)

Local air regulators have issued seven notices of violation against the Valero Energy Corp. over a malfunction at its Benicia refinery that has led to the release of petroleum coke dust from the facility since Monday.

The problem has led to a response by four agencies: the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and Solano County health officials have launched investigations into the releases; the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration and the Benicia Fire Department are monitoring the situation.

It’s unclear how long the problem will last.

“Valero is telling us they are unable to give an estimate of when it will be resolved,” said Benicia Fire Chief Josh Chadwick.

A Valero representative says the malfunction is tied to a device that removes particulates during a process that takes place inside the refinery.

“We have been experiencing operational issues with the flue gas scrubber,” said company spokeswoman Lillian Riojas.

That led to so-called coke fines — very small carbon particulates that are a byproduct of the oil refining process — being released from the refinery’s flare stacks.

Normally, warm water vapor moves through the refinery’s towers and exits the stacks as steam, but the petcoke particulates make the plume appear dark and sooty.

“The fines remained in the raw exhaust gas,” said Professor Eric Smith, associate director of the Tulane Energy Institute, specializing in refinery operations.

“The dark smoke will continue until all of the fines in the lines leading to the exhaust stack have been cleared from the system,” Smith said.

While the material is not hazardous, the releases could include trace amounts of heavy metals, according to Terry Schmidtbauer, Solano County’s assistant director of resource management.

Valero’s Riojas did not respond to follow-up questions about the status of the scrubber that led to this week’s releases, but Benicia Fire’s Chadwick said Friday that “the maintenance issue has been resolved.”

So far, air tests have not raised concerns among the agencies monitoring the site. Crews have not detected high levels of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide or particulate matter, according to Chadwick.

And Schmidtbauer says the situation is slowly improving — the amount of coke dust coming from the facility has been lessening.

Nevertheless, the air district has issued four notices of violation against Valero for visible emissions and three for public nuisance,  agency spokesman Ralph Borrmann said.

The U.S. EPA says significant quantities of dust from pet coke can present a health risk.

“The risk of these tiny particles getting into people’s lungs is yet another example of the dangers of living near a dirty refinery,” said Hollin Kretzmann, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Communities should not have to be afraid of breathing in pollution that could affect their health.”

The problem represents one of the more extensive malfunctions at the refinery since it lost all power on May 5, 2017, an event that led to a major release of pollution, shelter-in-place and evacuation orders.

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    Enviros Sue California State Lands Commission Over Tesoro Terminal Lease

    Repost from Law360

    Enviros Sue Calif. Land Agency Over Tesoro Terminal Lease

    By Juan Carlos Rodriguez, April 20, 2015, 5:59 PM ET

    New York — Two environmental groups on Friday sued the California State Lands Commission for allegedly renewing Tesoro Refining and Marketing Co.’s lease at an oil receiving facility near San Francisco bay without adequately considering the business’ impacts on the surrounding area.

    The Center for Biological Diversity and Communities for A Better Environment alleged the CSLC violated the California Environmental Quality Act in March when it renewed the 30-year lease for Tesoro’s Avon Marine Terminal. The CSLC’s Final Environmental Impact Report was faulty for a variety of reasons, including that it doesn’t specify what kind of oil will be imported to the terminal, the petition for a writ of mandate said.

    It said the Avon Terminal imports crude oil feedstocks to Tesoro’s nearby Golden Eagle Refinery and exports refined petroleum products, like gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.

    “The EIR for the Avon Terminal fails as an informational document as it is conspicuously silent about the types of crude oil feedstocks that will be handled at the terminal and the additional risks that may be created by Tesoro’s plans to process lower quality and heavy crudes at the Golden Eagle Refinery,” the petition said.

    It said that Tesoro plans to process increasing quantities of lower quality crude oil feedstocks at the Golden Eagle Refinery, including Bakken crude. The environmental groups said transporting and processing Bakken crude creates numerous health and safety risks because it’s highly volatile and is dirtier than most other crude feedstocks, releasing high levels of benzene, volatile organic compounds, and toxic air contaminants when processed.

    The Avon Terminal EIR is deficient in other ways as well, according to the groups. They said that in analyzing the environmental effects of renewing the Avon Terminal lease, the EIR considers only the Avon Terminal’s effects and fails to consider the combined effects of Tesoro’s integrated facilities, including those of the refinery and another nearby terminal.

    “This artificial isolation of the Avon Terminal improperly masks the full extent of the effects of Tesoro’s integrated refinery operations,” the petition said.

    The EIR also underestimates the annual number of ships that will dock at the relicensed Avon Terminal over its thirty-year lease, resulting in an underestimation of the air, water, wildlife, and other impacts of the Avon Terminal’s future operations, according to the petition.

    “As a result of these and related deficiencies, the EIR fails to fully inform the public and decision-makers of the project’s significant health, safety, and environmental impacts and fails to analyze and mitigate these impacts as the California Environmental Quality Act requires,” the petition said.

    Contra Costa County hosts four of the five major petroleum refineries in northern California, and the fifth is nearby, the petition said, making it the second largest refining center in the western U.S. It said residents in the area suffer from high rates of asthma and many are ill-equipped to deal with these burdens, as more than half the residents are low-income minorities.

    “Tesoro’s operations also affect wildlife. The project area provides habitat for state and federally listed species, such as coho and Chinook salmon and steelhead; delta smelt; green sturgeon; black and Ridgway’s rails; salt marsh harvest mouse; and three endangered plant species,” the petition said.

    The environmental groups are asking the CSLC to void the EIR for the Avon Terminal lease approval; set aside and withdraw approvals of the project; and refrain from granting any further approvals for the Avon Terminal lease approval until the commission complies fully with the requirements of CEQA.

    The CSLC declined to comment on the lawsuit Monday.

    The plaintiffs are represented by Irene V. Gutierrez and Trent W. Orr of Earthjustice and Roger Lin.

    Counsel information for the CSLC was not available Monday.

    The case is Center for Biological Diversity et al. v. California State Lands Commission, number 15-0569 in the Superior Court of the State of California in and for the County of Contra Costa.

    –Editing by Emily Kokoll.
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