Category Archives: Petroleum Coke (Petcoke)

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.

    Six Benicia derailments in last five years – Union Pacific investigating

    Repost from the Benicia Herald
    [Editor: For background on the 6 derailments in the Benicia Industrial Park over the last 5 years, see my recent article, Train cars come off the tracks in Benicia Industrial Park – again…  – RS]

    Union Pacific still investigating cause of derailment Saturday

    By George Johnston, September 29, 2017

    A Union Pacific Railroad train derailed in Benicia on Saturday afternoon [September 23, 2017].

    The train, consisting of nine hopper cars, derailed near Bayshore Road in the Benicia Industrial Park around 3:40 p.m. No injuries were reported from the incident, and no hazardous materials were spilled. Union Pacific Railroad is currently investigating the situation, representatives for the company said.

    Since 2013, at least six train derailments have been reported in the Industrial Park. The most recent prior to Saturday’s accident included two over the course of a week last October. In all instances, no injuries or spillages were reported.

      BENICIA HERALD: City Council hears public comments on crude by rail

      Repost from the Benicia Herald Online
      [Editor: For Tuesday’s comments on Valero Crude By Rail by Marilyn Bardet and Planning Commissioner and City Council candidate Steve Young, skip down to the red bullet.  – RS]

      Council hears about crude by rail, water infrastructure and EMS costs Tuesday

      By Elizabeth Warnimont, July 7, 2016

      BeniciaHerald_logoAt its regular meeting Tuesday, Benicia City Council had a busy meeting with lots of activity. First, the Council recognized the Parks and Community Services Department with a proclamation declaring July, 2016 as “Parks Make Life Better Month,” in conjunction with the statewide designation. Parks, Recreation and Cemetery Commission member Rich Payne accepted the proclamation from Mayor Elizabeth Patterson and the City Council.

      The Council also confirmed Johanna Ely as Benicia’s sixth poet laureate. Ely spoke briefly about the activities and aims of the laureate program and read a selection of poetry including one titled, “Ode to the Library.”

      The final item preceding the council’s consent calendar was a presentation by Assistant Public Works Director Christian Di Renzo on advanced metering infrastructure. Di Renzo provided an overview of the systems currently being considered by the city, outlined the benefits of acquiring a new, electronic metering system, and answered questions posed by the council and a member of the public.

      Public comment

      Marilyn Bardet
      Marilyn Bardet

      During the public comment period, Marilyn Bardet showed the council photos of both the aftermath of the recent Mosier, Ore. train derailment and explosion as well as some of the Union Pacific track and refuse currently visible in Benicia that she felt were of concern. One photo showed piles of black powder that Bardet referred to as coke dust that has spilled from hopper cars on railroad tracks near Bayshore Road in Benicia, and one showed warped track rail near the trestle towers, among other photos of concern. Bardet pointed out that the discarded railroad ties in one photo presented a fire hazard due to their creosote content.

      Bardet suggested that these items be considered for remediation.

      Benicia Planning Commissioner Steve Young, candidate for Benicia City Council
      Benicia Planning Commissioner Steve Young, candidate for Benicia City Council

      Benicia Planning Commissioner Steve Young also addressed the Council, as a resident, about the June 23 preliminary findings concerning the recent Oregon crude oil train derailment.

      The Federal Railroad Administration report is titled, “Preliminary Factual Findings Report, Derailment of Union Pacific’s Unit Crude Oil Train Transporting Bakken Crude Oil for U.S. Oil, Mosier, Oregon.” Young read from the report’s executive summary. A complete copy of the report is available at the city of Benicia website at ci.benicia.ca.us.

      The involved, Dot-111 tank cars, modified to 1232 standards, were equipped with full height head shields and metal jackets with insulation. These cars are commonly referred to as jacketed 1232s. During the derailment, a coupler struck one car, mechanically puncturing it. This puncture allowed crude oil to come in contact with an ignition source, leading to a fire that burned for approximately 14 hours.

      The four cars involved in the fire were the punctured car and three additional tank cars, two that had their bottom outlet valves sheared off by the derailment and one car with the gasket melted out from under the manway cover.

      The Valero proposal, Young pointed out, calls for the use of non-jacketed 1232 cars. These have no full-height head shields and no jackets with insulation. Another concern is the bottom release valves, a common source of ignition in derailment incidents. These valves shear off, causing a leak and then the subsequent fire. The more advanced tank cars have the valve located on top.

      Young reminded the Council that Valero is proposing to buy or lease these tank cars. If safety is truly Valero’s first priority, he suggested, then the added expense of choosing safer cars would certainly seem to be worth any added expense. He asked that the Council consider these issues when it addresses the proposal again in September. He added that an even safer car, the Dot-117, will be required by federal law by the year 2020, and suggested that again, in the interest of safety, Valero might consider opting for that model.

      SONET
      The Council approved a resolution to accept a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Solano County Sheriff’s Office regarding the Benicia Police Department hiring of a full time Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Enforcement Team (SONET) officer, who would report to the SONET sergeant. The officer’s salary would be provided by the sheriff’s office. A resolution approving the MOU was approved by unanimous vote.

      First responder fee overview
      Benicia Fire Chief Jim Lydon presented the Council with a report on the option for the fire department to begin assessing fees for services provided by its Emergency Medical Services (EMS) team. The department would collect insurance coverage information from patients at the point of service and hand them a notice stating that they would be contacting their insurance companies on their behalf.

      Chief Lydon emphasized that the department would utilize compassionate billing, which means that the insurance portion of any incurred costs would be considered payment in full, and that fees would only be assessed for services and not for transportation, which is currently provided by an outside ambulance company. He also noted that no patients would be billed directly from the fire department, regardless of their insurance coverage status.

      Councilmember Tom Campbell expressed concern over the legality of the compassionate billing procedure and Chief Lydon agreed to investigate that topic further, though he noted that Bay Area cities already following that procedure have not yet encountered problems, to his knowledge.

      The presentation was intended to be strictly informational. The fire department desired direction from council as to whether or not to pursue the idea, and council indicated that they should proceed.

      PG&E exit fees
      Councilmember Alan Schwartzman provided the Council with some information pertaining to a proposal to submit a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) regarding the Power Charge Indifference Adjustment (PCIA) fee, essentially an exit fee, charged by Pacific Gas & Electric to customers who have switched to Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) providers such as Marin Clean Energy (MCE).

      Schwartzman, an MCE board member as it happens, began by reading from the staff report accompanying the City Council agenda, a complete copy of which is available by visiting the city of Benicia web site under Agendas and Minutes, or by calling the city at 746-4200. Schwartzman’s reading is paraphrased here:

      MCE has requested that the city of Benicia submit a letter to the CPUC regarding the PCIA charge increase. The CPUC has consistently denied adequate public input to discuss the fee. Earlier this year, PG&E increased this fee by 95 percent. The proposed letter asks the CPUC to provide a venue for public input. The charge is assessed by PG&E on a per-kilowatt basis to cover power generation costs acquired prior to a customer’s change in service provider.

      Schwartzman explained that PG&E procures energy based on anticipated need, so that when customers switch away from PG&E, the company is left with the cost burden of the energy it has already acquired, without corresponding reimbursement from customers.

      The CPUC approved the increases at a public meeting, but without allowing CCAs access to the data they would need in order to effectively predict the amount of the fee, information which they would like to be able to pass along to their customers. All CCAs are currently working with the CPUC and Investor-Owned Utilities (IOUs), in order to inform customers how the PCIA fees are calculated and to remain cost competitive.

      MCE is asking the city of Benicia to request that the CPUC allow a workshop for public input in order to fairly deal with the PCIA fee.

      A motion to approve the submittal of the letter was approved by unanimous vote.

      More information
      A complete copy of the meeting agenda is available at the city of Benicia website at ci.benicia.ca.us or by calling the city at 746-4200. Minutes of the meeting are typically available about two weeks after the date of the meeting. The next City Council meeting will take place Tuesday, July 19 at Council Chambers, City Hall, 250 East L St., beginning at 7 p.m.