Category Archives: Valero Benicia Refinery

KQED: State Decides Not to Penalize PG&E for Major Valero Outage

Repost from KQED NEWS, California Report
[See also: Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson’s full comment.]

State Decides Not to Penalize PG&E for Major Valero Outage

The Valero Benicia refinery. (Craig Miller/KQED)

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which recently blamed PG&E for causing a major power outage at Valero’s Benicia refinery last year, has decided not to punish the utility for the mistakes that led to one of the worst Bay Area refinery accidents in years.

The commission concluded that PG&E’s inadequate training of operations personnel and slow response to the failure of an electrical component led to the May 5, 2017, outage, which triggered a major release of toxic sulfur dioxide and prompted emergency shelter-in-place orders in Benicia.

But the state agency — at this point — does not plan to penalize the company.

“PG&E has agreed to take corrective actions that, in CPUC staff’s opinion, would prevent a recurrence of the problems,” commission spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said in an email.

“SED (The CPUC’s Safety and Enforcement Division) does not plan to issue a citation with penalties at this time, but will monitor to ensure that PG&E addresses the problems sufficiently and in a timely manner,” Prosper said, adding that if things change, the commission could reopen the probe and cite the utility.

The CPUC’s decision did not sit well with the area’s elected leaders.

“I think it’s outrageous,” said state Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa), who represents the area. “Not only continually has PG&E’s safety protocols been called into question, but now this leads me to call into question the oversight of the California Public Utilities Commission.”

Dodd plans to send a letter to CPUC President Michael Picker in the coming days, expressing outrage over the agency’s decision.

“They clearly violated the law,” said state Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), a longtime critic of PG&E, in an interview Thursday.

“To give them a pass certainly does not bode well for the change in culture and policies and prioritization at the PUC where safety is supposed to be paramount,” said Hill, who’s been pushing the commission to be a stricter regulator of PG&E since the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion.

“It indicates a systemic problem with PG&E,” he said. “The CPUC should do its job, enforce the law and cite PG&E.

Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson, who has been pushing for the city to have more oversight over the refinery, said the CPUC’s decision means it failed to consider that the city was gravely affected by the outage.

“Residents and workers in Benicia are at risk because the CPUC cravenly fails to ensure that PG&E provide adequate training when working on power supply to the Valero refinery,” Patterson said.

The mayor says the commission should have considered fining PG&E for costs associated with the city’s opening of its emergency center and the work its police and firefighters did the day of the outage, among other sacrifices Benicia made in dealing with the refinery accident.

The Valero shutdown led to several government investigations, a brief increase in gas prices and a lawsuit by Valero against PG&E.

The CPUC said a lack of training and unclear company documents led PG&E workers to misunderstand the importance of a key piece of equipment that went down before the outage.

Valero, when asked to comment on the commission’s decision, reiterated that blame was on PG&E for the entire episode.

“We agree with the CPUC report, which found that PG&E violated state regulations and is solely responsible for the May 5, 2017 power outage,” company spokeswoman Lillian Riojas said in an emailed statement.

“PG&E must take the necessary corrective actions to prevent this from happening again,” Riojas said.

PG&E disputes the CPUC’s findings and continues to blame Valero for the incident, but says it’s taking steps to prevent a similar problem.

“Since this incident, we have completed several corrective actions … including adding alarms and alerts, regularly reviewing work processes and making changes to verification status of protective systems and holding regular refresher trainings for operators,” said Deanna Contreras, a PG&E spokeswoman, in a statement.

 

    ISO Working Group – reflections on Council’s NO vote… and WHERE from here?

    Benicia City Council: 3 to 2 against Industrial Safety Ordinance

    By Benicia’s ISO Working Group, submitted by Ralph Dennis
    [See also Video: Benicia Council votes NO.]

    Another 3-2 vote. Very disappointing, again. The Council majority voted again, 3-2, not to consider an industrial safety ordinance for Benicia. Now, we wait for a yet-to-be determined date in November or December for Council to reconvene and review the progress Valero has made toward its commitments.

    It appears the Council majority on these votes thinks another one or two monitors will address Benicia’s “monitoring issue” and that the “communication issue” is already taken care of. What monitoring is out there, or soon to be, is in no way comprehensive or sufficient for our community. Better communication? Thank you, Valero, for sharing all that information at the July 17 Council meeting – after 14 months of Council’s two-step process, and more than 10 years of community requests for Valero to address air monitoring.

    Disappointing Council vote, yes. But, now we at least know how many monitors Valero has, and where they are located. And, three are community monitors, not just for fence line. Valero even says it has mobile monitors available. Probably more information than any of us had 14 months ago, certainly 10 years ago.

    But this is of little value unless Council takes the next step, uses the data from these monitors (and other monitors perhaps to come), as well as all the other information Valero committed to share on a real-time, easy to access and use, public web site with the City as a “partner”, to address community health and safety concerns. With or without an ISO, Council has already started this process, and Council cannot go back. Council now knows the resources are out there.  We’ll see what Council does with them.  Passage of a Benicia ISO is the most effective tool for ensuring the community’s health and safety.

    So, what now?  Over the next 6 months, let’s keep in mind what’s been left on the table or yet to be considered by virtue of Council’s 3-2 vote. What are the deficiencies an industrial safety ordinance would correct?

    1. Progress report. The minutes from June 19th Council state that there will be a progress report in November and then in December there will be (or should be) a meeting with choices of moving forward with an ISO or not depending on the progress report. What are the performance measures for that report? What choices will be presented to Council?  More questions than answers, which is why Terry Mollica said, “we are kicking the can down the road” if we don’t have the rehearing to set the parameters and future steps and outcomes.
    2.  Funding:  For the City to meaningfully “communicate”, i.e., have knowledge, skills set, and be copied and comment on reports, the City will need to increase staff which requires funding. An ISO would provide the funding through fees assessed on businesses subject to the ISO. How will staff follow up without funding?
    3. Promises:  The record is clear that Valero does not fulfill its promises and conditions of approval for permits.  Watch and see….
    4. Confusion and misdirection:  Valero distracts the staff, Council and public with their pat on their own back for their community contributions and their expressions of concern for public health protection.  The City and community recognizes these actions on the part of Valero and its contribution to the City’s tax base. It is nice to have non-governmental groups receive Valero money, but the issue we are talking about is air quality.
    5. Monitors:  There is great confusion about monitors – what they monitor, how they monitor, and when they do it. Council members in the 3-2 majority did not receive the benefit of Eric Stevenson’s recent meeting in Benicia discussing air monitors, nor do these Council members seem familiar with or understand the work of Air Watch Bay Area which is a data resource much more nuanced than understood.  Will the City and public be kept in the loop as Valero acquires and installs air monitoring equipment?  Will the City and public be asked for input?
    6. Regulations:  It is true that we have good state regulations, but the recent KQED story where the California Public Utilities Commission found PG&E at fault because it did not follow those regulations, makes the point of why Benicia needs an ISO.  When will state regulations be implemented?  Will public utilities and private enterprises like Valero follow the regulations?  Who will report to us, how and when?  We should have reports of the required training, the fulfillment of the training, and periodic protocol reviews to be assured that new regulations are adequate, and that they are being followed.
    7. Missing in Benicia. Finally, as an important point of reference and comparison, the Mayor of Martinez says his city has a great relationship with Shell, who invites city people to training exercises, shares reports, and offers meetings and a myriad of other “communicating” actions.  Without Contra Costa County’s ISO, his city would not be included in these ways.  Absence of news is rarely news.  That is, we won’t be seeing newspaper headlines like “Benicia did not get a quarterly report yesterday.”  Or, “On Saturday, Valero did not train City Staff on emergency response.”  Stay alert for what we DON’T hear over these next months.

    So, the fight continues for a Benicia ISO. Let’s keep our eyes and ears open for the next piece of information that supports the need for an industrial safety ordinance in Benicia.

      Video: Benicia Council votes NO – ISO does not move forward

      With thanks, from YouTube by Constance Beutel

      Below are four videos documenting the Benicia City Council’s July 17 vote to REJECT Mayor Patterson’s request for reconsideration of Council’s June 19 vote on Industrial Safety Ordinance.

      • Rationale for rehearing (40 minutes)

      • Valero Opposition (39.5 minutes)

      • Support for rehearing (32 minutes)

      • Council debate and vote to deny (34.5 minutes)