Category Archives: US Environmental Protection Agency

KQED: EPA Demands Answers From Valero Months After Massive Benicia Refinery Outage

Repost from KQED News

EPA Demands Answers From Valero Months After Massive Benicia Refinery Outage

By Ted Goldberg, August 23, 2017

An 18-minute power outage on May 5, 2017, at the Valero refinery in Benicia led to a prolonged episode of flaring during which 74,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide was released into the air.

The Valero Energy Corporation is facing a deadline in the coming days to respond to questions from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about power issues at its Benicia oil refinery several months after an outage shut down the entire facility for weeks, leading to a major release of pollution.

The EPA wants detailed information about the outages that have led to flaring events at the refinery over the last three years, and it wants inspection records for all of the facility’s process units.

“EPA believes that much of the requested information is, or should be, readily available at the facility,” wrote Enrique Manzanilla, director of the agency’s Pacific Southwest Superfund Division, in a letter obtained by KQED.

The agency has asked Valero to explain its policies on handling outages, its risk management program and its flare system.

“The company may not withhold any information from EPA on the grounds that it is confidential business information,” the July 27 letter states. The EPA says Valero is required to respond to the agency within 30 days of receiving the letter.

The outage initially sent a huge plume of smoke into the air, prompting evacuation and shelter-in-place orders. It would later lead to several local and state investigations, a multimillion-dollar lawsuit, a decrease in profits for Valero and a push for more refinery oversight by the city of Benicia.

A Valero official says the company is working on providing answers to federal officials.

“We did receive the EPA request, and we intend to respond accordingly,” Lillian Riojas, a Valero spokesman, said in an email.

The EPA’s demands seem to go against the image the Trump administration has established as less interested in strong regulations on the fossil fuel industry.

“This letter is a bit surprising given that Trump’s EPA seems to be ignoring many public health issues to the delight of just about every polluter in the country,” said Hollin Kretzmann, at the Center for Biological Diversity, in an email. “The EPA must think Valero’s practices are especially concerning if it’s asking for this information.”

Still, he says the agency is not being aggressive enough. “This might be little more than a public relations exercise in the face of increasingly high-profile pollution problems at Bay Area refineries,” Kretzmann said. “There’s no assurance that any of this information gathering will lead to meaningful action.”

Daniel Kammen, a professor in the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley who has long advocated for strong solutions to climate change, says the EPA’s demand for information from one of the nation’s largest oil companies in connection with a local emergency should be the kind of on-the-ground work the agency does, no matter who’s in the White House.

“Actual workers at the EPA have to continue their jobs irrespective of political interference,” Kammen said.

If the EPA did not act on its federal mandate to react to Valero’s pollution release, it could be sued by environmental groups, according to Anthony Wexler, director of the Air Quality Research Center at UC Davis.

“Despite (EPA Administrator Scott) Pruitt’s stance on climate and environment in general, in numerous decisions he has shied away from taking actions that will certainly lose in court,” Wexler said.

The agency’s demands are part of a review of the refinery prompted by the May 5 outage, according to EPA officials who declined to comment further on the agency’s letter to Valero.

They came a month after Valero filed a lawsuit against PG&E, blaming the utility for the power failure. The oil giant is seeking in excess of $75 million for damage to refinery equipment and lost revenue it says was the result of the shutdown that took place after PG&E “shut off all electricity” to the Benicia facility.

PG&E has said the power failure was triggered by an “inadvertent operation” to protect electrical circuits. It has hired an engineering firm to review the cause. That company, Exponent, has yet to turn over a report to PG&E, according to utility spokeswoman Deanna Contreras.

The refinery released more than 80,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide from flaring in the days and weeks after the outage.

In June, KQED revealed that the refinery released more than 74,000 pounds of the toxic gas during 14 days of flaring after the outage, described as a “huge amount” by experts. That information came from a report the company filed with state officials and was obtained through a California Public Records Act Request.

Valero filed a separate report with the California Office of Emergency Services last month that showed the refinery released more than 8,200 pounds of sulfur dioxide on June 18 and 19.

The outage prompted several investigations, including one that revealed damage to part of the facility.

California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) inspected the refinery after the power failure, closed its investigation the same month and decided not to issue any violations afterward.

But the outage did damage one of the refinery’s flares, according to Cal/OSHA. “Attention was given to the South Flare, due to damage on flare tips and the dump stack,” wrote Cal/OSHA safety engineer Sean Sasser in a notice after the inspection.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District issued several notices of violation against the company due to the flaring in the days after the shutdown. Its investigation is ongoing, according to district spokesman Ralph Borrmann.

Solano County’s Department of Resource Management also launched a probe. That review is ongoing and is expected to be completed in October, according to Terry Schmidtbauer, the department’s director.

Experts say the outage led to an increase in the state’s gasoline prices.

And the shutdown hurt Valero’s bottom line. Its lawsuit claimed that the company lost a “substantial amount of profits.” The company’s second-quarter earnings, released last month, fell by more than 30 percent, apparently because it took several weeks to get the refinery back online.

The outage has also prompted Benicia city leaders to consider increasing their oversight of the refinery and improve how they communicate with residents about emergencies.

On the day of the shutdown, authorities imposed shelter-in-place evacuation orders for parts of the city, and at least a dozen people sought medical treatment for breathing difficulties.

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EAST BAY TIMES: Benicia: Valero to pay $157,800 penalty over toxic chemicals

Repost from the East Bay Times

Benicia: Valero to pay $157,800 penalty over toxic chemicals

By Denis Cuff, October 5, 2016, 5:53 pm
The Valero refinery is photographed in Benicia, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)
The Valero refinery is photographed in Benicia, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

BENICIA – The Valero oil refinery has agreed to pay $157,800 in federal penalties for improper management and storage of toxic chemicals and hazardous waste, the federal Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday.

The violations included illegal disposal of benzene, a carcinogen, into an unlined storm water retention pond and not alerting the public about all of its toxic chemical releases, EPA officials reported.

In addition to paying the penalties, Valero will modify its piping operations by June 2017 to prevent an estimated 5,000 pounds of benzene from being released into the atmosphere over the next 10 years, officials said.

Evidence of the violations were detected during an EPA inspection of the Benicia refinery in May 2014 to assess compliance with the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.

Additional violations included the company’s failure to determine if solid waste generated at the refinery was hazardous; the failure to maintain and operate to minimize risks of a toxic release; and failure to maintain complete and accurate records, the EPA said.

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EPA says oil train operator violated federal Clean Air Act at Albany facility

Repost from Politico New York

EPA says oil train operator violated federal Clean Air Act at Albany facility

By Scott Waldman, 08/17/16 05:29 AM EDT
Railroad oil tankers line up in Albany, N.Y.
Railroad oil tankers line up in Albany, N.Y. | AP Photo/Mike Groll

ALBANY — One of the main companies that transports crude oil through New York has violated federal clean air standards and may face significant fines, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency documents obtained by POLITICO.

Last month, the EPA issued a notice to Global Companies LLC, saying the company violated the federal Clean Air Act at its oil transportation facility in Albany. According to the documents, Global could face fines of more than $25,000 a day and may have to obtain a new permit for one of its main East Coast shipping routes.

According to the EPA, Global intentionally under-reported air emissions at the facility when it was granted permission to almost quadruple the amount of crude it could transport through Albany.

In 2012, after Global received state permission to increase the amount of crude it transported through Albany from about 500,000 gallons a year to almost 2 billion gallons, the company reported an increase in air emissions of 39.5 tons per year of volatile organic compounds.

But after a months-long investigation, the EPA determined the amount Global reported was far less than what it was actually emitting.

The increase Global claimed is just under the 40-tons-per-year limit that would require a new set of air permits, and likely lead to costly equipment upgrades and additional project delays.

“Global violated the (Clean Air) Act and the federally enforceable New York state implementation plan by increasing the throughput of crude oil at its petroleum storage facility located at 50 Church Street, Albany, New York without complying with the new source review requirements of the New York SIP,” wrote Dore LaPosta, director of the Division of Enforcement and Compliance Assistance at the EPA.

Edward Faneuil, Global’s executive vice president, denied the facility was out of compliance.

“With respect to the Notice of Violation issued by the EPA alleging violations of the Clean Air Act at its Albany facility, Global Partners is in compliance with regulatory and permitting requirements at that facility, including requirements under the CAA,” Faneuil said in a statement Tuesday. “We remain fully committed to operating all of our facilities in a safe, legal and environmentally responsible manner, and we will vigorously defend ourselves against any claims to the contrary.”

Global needs to obtain air permits for the facilities it uses during the crude oil transportation process, which includes equipment to offload oil train tankers.

Albany has become a national hub for crude oil trains, which bring the product from North Dakota and transport it to refineries along the East Coast. Public scrutiny of oil train safety has increased after a series of accidents in recent years, including one in July 2013 that killed dozens of people in Canada. In Albany, the oil trains run on tracks that are located next to a public housing facility and have been stored adjacent to a playground.

On Wednesday, EPA officials will meet with local residents affected by the oil train surge in Albany.

The Cuomo administration has allowed the oil transportation companies to increase the amount of crude they bring through Albany. Since it received permission to increase the amont of oil it transports, Global has also sought to add a crude oil heater that would allow it to bring in thick tar sands. However, the state Department of Environmental Conservation has delayed a decision on that proposal and is now locked in a legal battle with the company.

Local residents, including many who live at the public housing project, have complained that emissions from the Albany facility are causing health problems. In 2014, state regulators determined that the air quality in the area was not harmful.

The EPA investigation echoes claims of a lawsuit filed earlier this year by Albany County and a coalition of environmental groups, which contend Global Companies failed to obtain the proper air permits for its crude-handling facility at the Port of Albany. In the lawsuit, the groups claim Global failed to install proper pollution controls when it increased the amount of crude oil handled at the facility.

View the EPA document here: http://politi.co/2bpiO6R

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