Category Archives: Refinery emissions

Letter from Benicia’s Marilyn Bardet to BAAQMD: Must enforce refinery air monitor requirements

Copy of Marilyn Bardet’s letter, forcefully asking the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to follow through on promised enforcement of refinery air monitoring standards


Marilyn Bardet

From: Marilyn Bardet <email>
Subject: BAAQMD oversight/enforcement of Reg 12 – Rule 15, the Petroleum Refining Emissions Tracking Rule.
Date: October 21, 2020 at 3:37:37 PM PDT
To: Marcy Hiratzka <email@baaqmd.gov>

October 21, 2020

BAAQMD Board of Directors
Chair: Council member Rod Sinks, City of Cupertino
Vice Chair: Supervisor Cindy Chavez, Santa Clara County
Secretary: Supervisor Karen Mitchoff,  Contra Costa County

Sent via email:  <email@baaqmd.gov>

Subject:    BAAQMD oversight and enforcement of Regulation 12 – Rule 15, the Petroleum Refining Emissions Tracking Rule.

Dear Chair Rod Sinks, Vice Chair Cindy Chaves, Secretary Karen Mitchoff and Direrctors

I’m writing  as a 34-year resident of Benicia and a founding active member of the Good Neighbor Steering Committee, [“GNSC”] which was organized in 2000 to address public concerns and protect community health and safety as related to operations of the Valero refinery. I’d hope to express the following concerns at the Special Meeting held as a webinar today, but was unable to do so.

On August 1st, the Board received emailed letters from Jay Gunkelman and myself, outlining problems to date with refineries’ fenceline monitoring systems’ performance and reliability.

As you recall, Rule 15 was adopted in April, 2016. It required Bay Area refineries to install new, best technology fenceline monitoring systems, with raw data to be collected in real time at 5 minute intervals, and with a website provided for public access to that data.

After 4 years since Rule 15’s adoption, for the sake of public health and community safety, we would have expected by now that the Air District would have enforced standards for reliable performance of fenceline monitoring systems at all Bay Area refineries, and that data quality would be assured. Yet, to date, as per Rule 15 protocols, the District has not yet signed off on—e.g., given final approval of— the refineries’ fenceline monitoring and quality assurance plans. This is an unacceptable situation.

Today, we encourage the board and staff to fully address the various problems associated to Rule 15’s implementation at all Bay Area refineries. 

Pertinent to the Benicia community, Valero recently asserted that their Benicia refinery will be “the last man standing” among Bay Are refineries, and will continue to refine crude oil and produce petroleum products. Emissions tracking and fenceline monitoring will continue to be of particular concern to Benicians. The reliability of Valero’s fenceline systems’ performance is in serious doubt. 

In 2017, as per Rule 15 Guidelines, the GNSC submitted substantial comments to the District on Valero’s plans that had been created by Sonoma Tech for Valero.

In late 2019, the Benicia City Council voted to encourage Valero to get their fenceline systems installed and up and running before the District’s original deadline. Valero complied, installing 3 pathway systems and creating a public website to provide access to the data collected. Later, when public questions began to arise, Valero said that the new Hydrogen Sulfide monitoring system they’d purchased had never been field tested. After a year’s worth of data collection, data reliability remains questionable even for “signature” gases, including benzene. According to the Federal EPA’s Benzene Fenceline Monitoring Program, Valero’s benzene emissions were not only found to be the highest in the Bay Area; Valero’s total benzene emissions are four times greater than the four other refineries in the region.

It is implausible that there would be so few reportable detections, as the website routinely reports. Repeatedly, the website indicates that instruments are offline, or data is “pending final review.” Whose review? There is apparently no public access to archived data. Good science requires independent validation of data. Credibility of the systems and the data collection is at stake. Without independent review, public confusion and doubt about the sytems’ reliability will persist.

Right now, there is no independent, 3rd party data analysis required by the Air District. Yet verification of data for accuracy is crucial to public trustUnfortunately, in our casethe District has still not yet approved Valero’s fenceline monitoring system plan including the required quality assurance plan as mandated by Rule 12-15.

In the meantime, concerned Benicia residents formed a non-profit, incorporated in 2019, to provide an independently operated, community-based air-monitoring station for Benicia, called Benicia Community Air Monitoring Program. The system will be operated by solar, and will meet international standards for data quality. (Funding was appropriated through GNSC’s urging amendments to the  Settlement Agreement negotiated with Valero and City of Benicia.) We expect the new station will be operational by the end of 2020.

How is it possible that a small community group in Benicia can locate, configure and install an array of air monitoring equipment in less than a year, while the refineries in the Bay Area are still installing technologically inferior fenceline systems four years after they were told by the BAAQMD that these systems had to be approved and proven reliable, thus producing accurate data by now? 

I reiterate my request made in my letter of August 1st: 

We ask the Board to compel Valero to present all of the data associated with these systems to the public as soon as possible. In addition, we would like to see all raw data produced by the fenceline system at Valero so that it can be reviewed by independent experts. We ask that the  public have access to all District staff comments on refineries’ monitoring plans including quality assurance plans.

Thank you for your timely consideration of these matters.

Respectfully,

Marilyn Bardet
Benicia CA 94510

Valero Says It Faces $342,000 in Penalties Over Benicia Refinery Pollution Incident

By Ted Goldberg, May 14, 2019
KQED NEWS – California Report
The Valero refinery in Benicia. (Craig Miller/KQED)

Valero says it’s facing $342,000 or more in fines from county and regional agencies after a major air pollution incident earlier this year at its Benicia refinery.

In a filing last week with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, the company says it expects to face $242,840 in proposed penalties from the Solano County Department of Resource Management and at least another $100,000 in fines to settle a dozen notices of violation from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

The reported penalty amount is about 1/100th of 1% of the San Antonio, Texas-based company’s reported adjusted net profit for 2018 — $3.2 billion.

“While it is not possible to predict the outcome of the following environmental proceedings, if any one or more of them were decided against us, we believe that there would be no material effect on our financial position, results of operators, or liquidity,” the company said in its filing.

The SEC document also reported a much larger penalty, $1.3 million, that Valero believes it faces in connection with an incident in the Texas city of Corpus Christi, where contaminated backflow from a company asphalt plant contaminated the area’s water supply for several days.

A local environmentalist who has followed the Benicia refinery’s recent problems said the penalties barely amount to a drop in the bucket.

“These fines don’t mean much to a giant oil company worth tens of billions of dollars,” said Hollin Kretzmann, an Oakland-based lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity.

“It’s likely only a matter of time before we see another incident, so the communities near these dangerous refineries deserve better protection from toxic air pollution,” Kretzmann said.

Lillian Riojas, a Valero spokeswoman, said the company would not comment beyond its public filing.

Ralph Borrmann, a spokesman for the BAAQMD, emphasized that the Valero fines were not settled yet.

The district tends to spend several years negotiating settlements with local refineries, bringing together a handful of violations into a package long after they are the subject of media coverage.

For instance, the district announced in March that Shell had agreed to pay $165,000 to settle violations at its Martinez refinery that took place in 2015 and 2016.

Solano County’s investigation into Valero’s most recent incident is ongoing, according to Terry Schmidtbauer, the county’s assistant director of resource management, who emphasized that the agency has yet to produce or negotiate any final violations in connection with Valero’s March releases.

But Schmidtbauer said it was typical for his department to discuss tentative findings and potential penalties with companies it’s investigating, talks he said would be preliminary.

Two refinery components — a processing unit called a fluid coker, which heats up and “cracks” the thickest and heaviest components of crude oil, and a flue gas scrubber, which is supposed to remove fine particles before they’re released from the facility’s smokestacks — are under scrutiny in Solano County’s probe.

They began malfunctioning on March 11, resulting in the release of sooty smoke from the refinery. The releases intensified two weeks later when the facility belched out a large amount of black soot, leading to elevated levels of particulate matter.

The smoke prompted county officials to issue a health advisory for those with respiratory problems. Refinery managers shut down the facility.

Valero’s SEC filing came as the Benicia refinery began a gradual process of restarting after being off line for more than 40 days.

The resumption of operations at the facility coincided with a slow and very small drop in gas prices, after two months of increases. On March 24, the day Valero shutdown, the average cost of a gallon of unleaded gasoline in California was $3.49, according to AAA.

On May 7, as the Benicia refinery gradually got back on-line, the the average price was $4.10. On Tuesday, it had dipped slightly to $4.07

Energy experts have said Valero’s shutdown coupled with other refinery problems in California and the high cost of crude oil globally led to the state’s recent gas price hikes, which are currently the subject of a state Energy Commission investigation.

Residents concerned about smoke; officials ‘let it burn’

March 19, 2019, 3:15pm Pacific Time

2 Updates on petrochemical plant fire in Texas…

40 mins ago

… are concerned about the air quality and possible negative effects of the smoke plume moving across the city …

 


No timetable for end to fire at Texas chemical facility – CBS7

1 hour ago – Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said at a news conference that monitors show … The school districts in Deer Park and in nearby La Porte canceled classes on …

ALSO, from Google…

Photos: A massive petrochemical fire in Texas will burn for days

Quartz7 hours ago – A massive fire at a Texas petrochemical storage terminal will continue to burn … and toluene at Intercontinental Terminals Company in Deer Park, near Houston.

Texas Plant Fire Intensifies After Drop in Water Pressure

NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth4 hours ago

Deer Park plant fire: How the weather impacts growing smoke plume

Houston Chronicle3 hours ago

What We Know About the Health Effects of the ITC Deer Park Fire

Houstonia Magazine5 hours ago

Houston chemical fire: Huge flames seen engulfing plant in Deer Park

BBC News9 hours ago

Massive refinery fire in Texas left to burn itself out

Repost from The Houston Chronicle
[Editor: Benicia’s worst nightmare…  – R.S.]

To Deer Park residents, fire a reminder of ‘like living on a fault line’

Samantha Ketterer and Emily Foxhall March 18, 2019 Updated: March 18, 2019 4:37 p.m.
Petrochemical fire at the Intercontinental Terminals Company Monday, March 18, 2019, in Deer Park, Texas. | Photo: Godofredo A. Vasquez/Staff photographer

Jodie Thompson pulled over on Independence Parkway, less than a mile away from a petrochemical plant that was leaking plumes of black smoke into the sky.

In her 34 years living in Deer Park, she’d seen flares before. But this was different.

“I trust that they actually know what they’re doing, but inside, I have this doubt,” Thompson said Monday afternoon, watching the flames from inside the safety of her car.

The fire had raged at Intercontinental Terminals Company for more than 26 hours by the early afternoon and spread to eight holding tanks. Even after a shelter-in-place was lifted Monday morning, the fire was still expected to burn for two more days.

The ordeal, in some ways, was part of life in Deer Park, an east Harris County city of more than 33,000 people. Residents said they were familiar with the risks that come with living by the refineries and chemical plants. At a certain point, you have to stop worrying, they said.

“You can’t fret about it,” said Thompson, who is 60. “What are you going to do? You choose to live here.”

Holly Ball, 47, is a newer resident to Deer Park, having lived in the city for just a year. She’s noticed the puffing smoke stacks at the refineries, of course, but wasn’t aware of a threat like this, she said.

Like Thompson and many other residents on Monday, Ball parked her car to take photos of the smoke spreading miles west into Houston. She planned to send them to her friends in Louisiana.

“It’s scary,” she said. Her dog barked in the seat next to her. “It’s scary.”

On Facebook, people responded to official updates with more questions. They wanted to know more about what exactly was happening and what the risks were to their health.

Would the city of Deer Park be evacuated? Was it possible the plant would explode? The shelter-in-place had been in Deer Park, but what about people in the close-by city of Pasadena? And in La Porte?

Some people wrote of alarm sirens that should have gone off but haven’t worked for some time. Even with the shelter-in-place lifted, looking up at the sky, it was hard for many to believe air quality was fine. Some wrote of symptoms they were experiencing.

WHAT WE DISCOVERED: A HoustonChronicle.com investigation found dangerous chemicals create hidden dangers

One person said she had trouble breathing overnight. Two others wrote of burning sensations in their eyes. Another person decided to leave the area because their child was having trouble breathing. Some said they were simply nervous to sleep.

Bernice Oehrlein, 78, pushed a cart in the morning through the Food Town grocery store in Deer Park, about 5 miles southwest of the plant. She recently had a bad bout with pneumonia, so the fire is concerning for health reasons, she said.

“I have a hard time breathing anyways,” Oehrlein said.

At a Starbucks just down the road, Cindy Richards and her daughter drank coffee instead of going on their normal Monday walk.

Richards, a 67-year-old who lives in Pasadena, recalled the drive to Deer Park, before she realized a fire had clouded up the sky.

“I was like, ‘It’s a little overcast,'” she said. But then, “I come a little closer – ‘That’s smoke.'”

Richards doesn’t pay too much attention to the factories anymore, although she said they used to be more top-of-mind when she lived off of Sims Bayou, closer to some of the refineries.

Her daughter, 35-year-old Robyn French, lives close to the plant in Deer Park with her husband and two children. Flares, smoke and a gassy smell have become a normal occurrence, and she knows what to do in the case of an explosion.

But French knew better than to ignore the smoke on Monday, even though she said she felt fairly safe.

She made sure Sunday and Monday that her son wasn’t outside on his bike, breathing in anything possibly dangerous. And the unknown is still concerning.

“Am I still able to eat the Swiss chard and kale I’m growing in my garden?” she asked. “That’s a valid question to me. Will my oranges be full of chemicals when they’re full grown?”

IN THE AIR: What you need to know about the chemicals

Heather Trevino, 42, grew up in Deer Park and lives there now with her 9-year-old daughter. She said she had taken shelter before, but didn’t recall an incident as long and intense as this one.

Trevino saw the smoke rising above her neighbor’s roof Sunday. Her eyes and throat itched. When she got the alert to shelter-in-place, she knew to bring in her two dogs and shut off the A/C.

Trevino faintly heard the sound of the alarms that she said are tested every Saturday at noon. She put on some movies for her daughter, who also learned in school what to do when a shelter-in-place was ordered.

“We kind of get it ingrained in us,” Trevino said. “Living here, it’s just kind of part of what you accept, that there’s something that could possibly happen.”

Thompson likened it to an earthquake-prone area.

“It’s probably like living on a fault line,” she said. “It doesn’t happen very often, but the possibility is always there. In the back of your mind, you push it back. It’s out of your control.”

Anthony, a 36-year-old who works at a nearby plant, said he had to take the day off because of his workplace’s proximity to ITC. He declined to give his last name because of his employer.

While Anthony said he didn’t believe the air quality in the area is particularly bad because of the incident, he’s still concerned of the possibility of an explosion.

“It’s not anything that can really be taken lightly,” he said. “There is a flash point.”