On November 14, a coalition of local groups convened an expert panel to share with Benicians about the importance of establishing an Industrial Safety Ordinance (ISO). Organizers believe that a local ISO will give our community a seat at the table and enable a faster response in times of industrial emergency situations.
TOWN HALL MEETING TONIGHT!
An Industrial Safety Ordinance (ISO)
To learn more about ISO Benicia,
please attend a panel discussion with State Officials, and Contra Costa County experts on why and how Benicia can better protect our community.
Why: Currently, Benicia is the only refinery town in the Bay Area not protected by an ISO. In Contra Costa County, the county Hazardous Materials Division of the Health Department is responsible for enforcing an ISO that governs the three refineries in the county unincorporated areas – Shell, Tesoro and Phillips 66. The City of Richmond has an ordinance that mirrors the county’s and contracts with Contra Costa County for enforcement activities governing the Chevron refinery and other industries.
When:TODAY!Tuesday, November 14, 2017 at 7pm.
Where: The Benicia Public Library in the Doña Benicia Room at 150 East L St. in Benicia.
Gregory Vlasek, Local Program Coordination and Emergency Response, California Environmental Protection Agency
Clyde Trombettas, Statewide Manager and Policy Advisor for California OSHA, Process Safety Management Unit
Randy Sawyer, Contra Costa County Chief Environmental Health and Hazardous Materials Officer
John Gioia, Contra Costa County Supervisor
Staff representatives from Solano County were invited to participate and declined the invitation.
You: There will also be an opportunity for the public to ask questions and make comments at the end of the presentations.
What is the purpose of an Industrial Safety Ordinance (ISO)? The main goal of an Industrial Safety Ordinance (ISO) is to prevent and/or minimize the effects of devastating accidents on the employees close to the accident and the surrounding communities.
Why does Benicia need this when the State has an ISO? After the near-catastrophic May 5th Valero Refinery emergency shutdown and major flaring incident, it was even more apparent that Benicia is at risk without an ISO. Benicia is the only jurisdiction in the East Bay with a refinery or chemical industry that does not have a local safety ordinance such as the City of Richmond and other refinery communities have. The City of Benicia is covered by Cal/OSHA and Cal/EPA safety regulations. However, there are additional concerns not addressed by Cal/OSHA and Cal/EPA, such as no direct safety reports filed at the City of Benicia, leaving Benicia in the dark. An ISO would correct this and other safety matters.
How would this improve communications between Valero and the community of Benicia? A local ISO would facilitate cooperation between industry, the City, the County, local fire departments, Cal/OSHA, Cal/EPA, other agencies that have oversight of businesses, and the public in the prevention and reduction of incidents at refineries like Valero. An ISO would also establish local air quality monitors for access to real time data.
Why is the Valero refinery the only Bay Area refinery not involved with a county or local ISO? In 1998 Contra Costa County adopted an ISO, and revised and updated it after the Chevron fire. The City of Richmond also has a local ISO. These ISOs require among other things, refineries and other chemical businesses to submit a safety plan, undergo safety audits, and have risk management plans, each of which would allow more community input and access. The Contra Costa ISO has been praised as the best safety ordinance in the country, so effective that Cal/OSHA and Cal/EPA adopted many elements for state regulation and oversight. Benicia is the only city in Solano County that is home to refinery and currently our County has no plans to develop an ISO. It is up to the City of Benicia to develop and implement its own.
How would the ISO be managed and can Benicia afford it? Contra Costa County’s ISO enables the county to collect fees from industrial facilities to pay for comprehensive public safety alerts and local information about environmental risks and exposure to toxins due to an “event”.
What are the next steps and how can I get involved? Because Benicia deserves to be properly protected and informed, Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, Progressive Democrats of Benicia, The Benicia Independent, Carquinez Patriotic Resistance, Communities For a Better Environment and additional community groups are urging the City Council to adopt and implement an Industrial Safety Ordinance for Benicia. To learn more and get involved, visit BeniciaIndependent.com. To write to Benicia city staff and council members, see below…
MAIL / PHONE / OFFICES: Mail to or visit City Hall: 250 East L Street, Benicia, CA 94510
Phone numbers are listed on the City’s CONTACT PAGE
SEND YOUR THOUGHTS TO THE NEWS MEDIA: Benicia Herald, 820 First St, Benicia, CA 94510, or by email to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org AND
Vallejo Times-Herald, P.O. Box 3188, Vallejo, CA 94590, Fax: 643-0128, or by email to Editor Jack Bungart at email@example.com.
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
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.
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.