Category Archives: Flaring

More bad Valero flaring on Monday 5/15 sends 30 to hospital

Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald

Residual Valero Benicia flaring reportedly sends 30 to hospital on Monday

By Katy St. Clair, 05/17/17, 5:15 PM PDT

BENICIA >> A residual flaring at the Valero Refinery on mid-day Monday reportedly sent 30 employees of the Industrial Park to the emergency room, a business owner said.

“I’m not happy about it at all,” said Dunlap Manufacturing head of operations Jasmin Powell, addressing the Benicia City Council on Tuesday night. “A cloud of smoke hit us between 1:30 and 4 (p.m.). I had to send everybody home.”

Dunlop Manufacturing is an Industrial Park anchor business that makes effects units and other accessories for musicians.

Valero has been intermittently flaring since a power failure on May 5, which initiated evacuations of the Industrial Park and a shelter-in-place at two elementary schools.

“We were affected severely … and we didn’t get any notice about anything going on beforehand,” Powell said. “And no one’s talking about it now,” she said.

“I did not know about this, Jasmin,” said Mayor Elizabeth Patterson.

While some on social media have been reporting flaring since the initial May 5 incident at Valero, no further evacuations or shelter-in-place orders have been announced.

Benicia Fire Chief Jim Lydon said that he wasn’t made aware of the situation on Monday until hearing about it around 4 p.m., but that Valero had given him “no notification” that day.

“I went to the refinery in an effort to gather information, and by then, whatever had been released from the scrubber unit was basically dissipated,” he said.

Lydon said he notified the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and Solano County Environmental Health, “Who both began follow up.”

Lydon said that Valero received an other “public nuisance” citation for Monday’s emissions, but the air district could not confirm this.

Valero has not responded to Times-Herald inquiries, and no one from Valero was at Tuesday night’s council meeting.

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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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63 hours of “unscheduled flaring” at Valero Benicia; 3 bay area refinery flaring problems investigated

Repost from KQED News
[Editor:  Significant quote for Benicia: “Last Friday afternoon there was a problem at the Valero refinery in Benicia, prompting the facility to send out flares for at least the next 63 hours.  The “unscheduled flaring” released more than 500 pounds of sulfur dioxide into the air…The company will not answer any questions about the incident.”

Local Air Regulators Investigating Three Separate Recent Refinery Problems

By Ted Goldberg, June 30, 2016 (Updated 8:30 a.m., Friday to include more details of Tuesday’s upset at the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo.)

Bay Area air regulators are looking into several recent malfunctions at Chevron’s Richmond refinery, Valero’s Benicia facility and the Phillips 66 plant in Rodeo that led each facility to send flares into the sky.

All three companies, though, are releasing little information about what caused the problems.

The most recent plant upset took place at the Phillips 66 refinery on Tuesday evening.

One of the facility’s cooling devices shut down at 6:20 p.m., prompting flaring that sent sulfur dioxide into the air, according to Randy Sawyer, Contra Costa County’s chief environmental health and hazardous materials officer.

Sawyer said that one of the water pumps that cools gases as they travel through part of the refinery malfunctioned. Initially, it was thought that one of the plant’s entire units had shut down.

The county determined that the incident did not have an “adverse acute impact on the health and safety of the community,” said Sawyer.

The flaring lasted for more than three hours, according to Ralph Borrmann, a spokesman at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

Paul Adler, a Phillips spokesman, confirmed that refinery operations were back to normal but offered no other details.

Last Friday afternoon there was a problem at the Valero refinery in Benicia, prompting the facility to send out flares for at least the next 63 hours.

The “unscheduled flaring” released more than 500 pounds of sulfur dioxide into the air, according to a report the company filed with the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

The company will not answer any questions about the incident.

“It is Valero’s policy to not comment on operations or possible outages beyond what is already publicly reported,” said Lillian Riojas, a company representative.

Flaring is a practice that allows the refinery to relieve stress from inside the facility.

In the recent Valero incident, it’s unclear how long it lasted.

Josh Chadwick, division chief at the Benicia Fire Department, says the flames stopped shooting out from the refinery at 7 a.m. on Monday.

But Borrmann, the air district spokesman, says flares continued intermittently until just before midnight on Wednesday.

That afternoon, Solano County’s Department of Human Resources learned that the operation ended, said Matthew Geisert, a hazardous materials specialist with the agency.

Geisert says his department has no other details about the incident.

That lack of information frustrates local activists who have called for tighter emissions regulations for the region’s refineries.

“What we don’t know is killing us,” said Andres Soto with Communities for a Better Environment. “It’s a deliberate policy strategy to keep the media and the public ignorant of what is going on with these dangerous chemical processes at the refinery.”

A malfunction at a processing unit at Chevron’s Richmond refinery led to flaring for several hours on June 19.

Contra Costa County health officials say the county’s dispatch center got lots of calls from concerned residents, but they didn’t feel the incident was severe enough to issue any serious warnings about it.

Contra Costa , unlike neighboring Solano County, does require more information from a refinery after certain flaring operations.

Chevron filed a 72-hour report with the county’s hazardous materials program that revealed the incident was prompted by a compressor in a processing unit tripping offline. The chemicals released during that operation did not rise above state standards, the report found.

But the company will not release more information.

“I can’t share any more detail than what we’ve provided in the county report,” said Chevron spokeswoman Leah Casey.

On March 29, Chevron’s Richmond refinery had a similar issue that caused flaring. In that incident, residents throughout the region complained of a bad odor. The upset sent sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide into the air.

In the hours after the flaring took place, Chevron did not admit its refinery had a malfunction, other than to say that flaring is an important part of keeping the refinery running safely.

That prompted Sawyer to call on the company to do a better job of telling the public about problems at its local refinery.

“Chevron should be open and say they did have a problem and they’re looking at it and they’re going to investigate it and see what the problem was,” Sawyer said then.

The company said it shared with the public what it felt was important information at the time and eventually filed a report that showed one of the refinery’s monitoring devices had failed.

The air district is investigating all four incidents.

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