Category Archives: Flaring

SF Chronicle editorial: On Benicia Refinery Safety

Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle

Clear the air

Chronicle Editorial Board, March 25, 2019 6:37 p.m.
FILE — In this July 12, 2017 file photo Valero Benicia Refinery in Benicia, Calif. Hundreds of bills await action by California lawmakers as the Legislature begins the last week of business this year. Among the issues include how to divvy up money from the cap-and-trade law, which puts a price on carbon emitted by polluters, including oil refineries like the Valero Benicia Refinery. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, file)

Benicia residents with respiratory ailments were warned to stay indoors for five hours Sunday because the Valero Refinery was filling the air with heavy smoke. The warning was lifted when Valero announced it was temporarily shutting down the refinery process.

Now the mayor has renewed her call to pass a Benicia industrial safety ordinance similar to the one that has guided refinery operations in Contra Costa County for decades. For the sake of clean air for all, the Benicia City Council should do so.

Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson first sought a city safety ordinance after a May 5, 2017, power outage sent flames roaring from the refinery’s stacks and spread pollution into the air, prompting shelter-in-place and evacuation orders for the community of 28,000. Within weeks of that event, Valero was fined by regional regulators, and two state agencies and Solano County adopted regulations modeled on the Contra Costa County ordinance.

The Benicia City Council, however, voted 3-2 to monitor implementation of the county’s new ordinance rather than adopt its own. Now Patterson is trying again.

She has suggested the council seek third-party review of the draft ordinance, which would require refinery reports be shared with Benicia, not just the state and county, and include a way to collect fees to cover the city’s costs of review.

While air quality is an ongoing community concern, the refinery’s latest problem began two weeks ago and so far has netted Valero seven violations from regulators. A third of Benicians have respiratory ailments — three times higher than the state average. For them, emissions are a health concern.

“There’s a saying,” Patterson said. “You either have a seat at the table or you’re on the menu.”

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    KQED – Report on Valero shut down

    Repost from KQED California Report

    After Weeks of Issues, Valero’s Benicia Refinery to Temporarily Shut Down

    By Ted Goldberg, Michelle Wiley,  Mar 24, 2019 11:30 a.m.
    Problems began at the refinery on March 11 when a malfunction involving one of the refinery’s units led to the release of petroleum coke dust. (Sasha Khokha/KQED)

    The Valero refinery is performing a controlled shutdown to “improve conditions and minimize risk,” according to a statement from Benicia city officials. The shutdown could last multiple days and result in visible flaring.

    Earlier Sunday, city officials issued an advisory notice for residents with respiratory issues to stay inside after a two-week-old problem at the Valero refinery worsened.

    But now that the refinery is shutting down, city officials and Solano County health officer Bela Matyas says the air quality is safe for residents.

    The problem the Valero refinery began on March 11 when a malfunction involving one of the refinery’s units led to the release of petroleum coke dust.

    A Valero representative said then that refinery’s flue gas scrubber was “experiencing operational issues.”

    The releases prompted local air regulators to issue seven notices of violation against the refinery. 

    Those problems eased after a few days but continued intermittently, air district officials said.

    On Saturday several Benicia residents posted comments on the social media site, Nextdoor, expressing concerns about what appeared to be more black smoke coming from Valero’s stacks.

    On Sunday, the particulate matter in the air increased.

    “The concentration of particulate matter has become significantly higher over the past day. The emissions contain coke, a by-product of the refining process that is made up primarily of carbon particles,” the city’s statement says.

    Benicia officials said testing of the coke dust released so far did not show heavy metals at harmful levels but warned that breathing in air from the releases could worsen underlying respiratory conditions like asthma.

    “Inspectors are on scene working with the facility and with Solano County and making a determination if additional violations will be coming,” said Lisa Fasano, a spokeswoman with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

    The Air District also deployed a monitoring van to drive throughout Benicia to “gather ground level emissions data.”

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      Valero emissions alerts – personal update with photos from Marilyn Bardet

      An email from Marilyn Bardet, Benicia

      From: Marilyn Bardet
      Subject: About Solano ALERT notice: Valero’s Scrubber releasing toxic particulate matter–pet coke
      Date: March 24, 2019 at 8:16:22 AM PDT

      Good morning all,

      I just received both a phone call and email from Solano ALERT at 6:59 a.m. regarding the ongoing problem at the refinery that’s resulting in continuous release of PM from the Scrubber, (main stack). I see emails circulating now among Benicians— and so you’ve all probably rec’d the advisory by now to “stay indoors, with doors and windows sealed, if you have asthma or other respiratory condition”. The advisory declares that they’ve tested the pet coke emissions and did not find (dangerous levels) of heavy metals. (Which is not to say there are no heavy metals being dispersed over the last ten days).

      My concern:
      This problem has been happening since at least March 13th, when I first saw the plume, having been alerted by a friend who had called to report its smokey color.  That day, following her phone call, I drove along  Park Road and Industrial Way (east of the refinery’s processing block) to see it for myself and take pictures.

      The release of dark smoke from the Scrubber signals an “up stream” on-going problem with the coker unit. My question: is the coker still operating or has it been shut down? If it’s not operating, when was the unit shut down?

      Yesterday, I was driving over the Benicia Bridge toward town and saw the plume and again noticed the smokey color, so went directly to Industrial Way to take pictures. I made a 1 minute video, holding my camera outside my car window to get it. This meant that I could see and smell the smoke— a very dirty, nasty smell. Anyone working in the Industrial Park yesterday downwind of the Scrubber  would have been greatly exposed.  I could smell the gases inside my car when I rolled up the window.

      You’ll notice that in the still shots from yesterday, the plume rises, drifts and falls. . . the wind was light, the molecules heavy!

      I can’t send the video via email, because the file is too large, but Constance will be able to circulate it.

      I want to know about the test for heavy metals and which ones they did find and in what concentrations. Was there any nickel found? Nickel is a known carcinogen when inhaled.

      All it would take would be a shift in the wind to bring the PM into our neighborhoods.

      — Marilyn

      The following pictures I took on March 13th,  between 11:33 a.m. and 11:35 a.m (click to enlarge):

      The following pictures I took on March 23, at 2:21 pm
      (click to enlarge):

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