Benicia Valero Refinery failing to meet Bay Area Air District requirements

[Editor: After this quick read, PLEASE SEND YOUR COMMENTS on Valero’s Air Monitoring Plans and Quality Assurance Project Plans to the Bay Area Air District.  They are accepting comments on the refineries’ plans through Thursday, April 20 at 5 p.m. Details on the BenIndy here. Comments should be sent to]

The Valero Refinery in Benicia was one of four refineries in the SF Bay Area that did not meet air quality requirements for compliance with the Bay Area Quality Management District. (Chris Riley/Times-Herald)

Martinez refinery only one of five in SF Bay Area to pass

Vallejo Times-Herald, by Thomas Gase, April 15, 2023

Of the five San Francisco Bay Area refineries, only the Martinez Refining Company has met the minimum air quality requirement for compliance with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, according to a news release sent out Friday.

Four other refineries — Benicia’s Valero, Richmond’s Chevron and Phillips 66 and Pacheo’s Tesero — all use the same air monitoring system for H2S, and didn’t meet the requirements as defined by BAAQMD and Rule 12-15.

Rule 12-15, passed in 2016, requires refineries to monitor and report fugitive gasses from their operating equipment, such as valves, compressors, and storage tanks. These emissions impact the health of the surrounding communities — the toxic gases released include noxious chemicals like the cancer-causing benzene and other serious gasses like hydrogen sulfide which can mix with PM 2.5 from other cumulative sources to create a toxic mix that affects the quality of the air.

Benicia Community Air Monitoring Program Board Member Kathy Kerridge said that after a trip to the Valero Refinery a few months ago, she’s not surprised at the four refineries failing.

“I was very much expecting this because when the Benicia Community Air Monitoring Program visited the site the refinery had a slideshow about hydrogen sulfite,” said Kerridge. “They knew what the regulations were and the slide show was showing what it was detecting. You can’t have an average of more than 15 parts per billion and their system was showing many times above that limit. Their three-month plan with different systems and operations was not showing they would be able to pass. They were different from Martinez in that it was clear that what they were doing was not working.”

BAAQMD set new requirements for H2S monitoring (part of Rule 12-15) that went into effect in January. Under the direction of its contractors, these four refineries installed H2S fence line systems that failed to meet the performance standards of the rule, and that provide unreliable, confusing data reports from those fence line sources. The operational and data display requirements in the QAPPs are not uniform across the four refineries.

According to the news release, “All the refineries should utilize equipment that meets the Air District requirements, be as uniform as possible in their operation, and display data to allow communities to compare measurements and performance across them. It is vital that the non-compliant refineries be held accountable — not just by paying fines, but by installing the equipment that will meet the BAAQMD’s requirements without delay.

Kerridge said she is not sure what will happen next, but is hoping to put pressure on the BAAQMD to make the four refineries come in compliance.

“Fines are trivial to them,” Kerridge said. “It’s like they are having a direct slap to the face with the community. The main problem is that the air monitoring gives us the sense of false security.”

Those fines include the Benicia Valero refinery agreeing last week with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to pay $1.2 million for violating the Clean Air Act.

After what the EPA called “significant chemical incidents” at the refinery in 2017 and 2019, an inspection found that Valero had failed to report the release of hazardous substances, among other noncompliance issues.

“This settlement sends a clear message that EPA will prosecute companies that fail to expend the resources needed to have a compliant, well-functioning Risk Management Plan to the fullest extent of the law,” said Larry Starfield, the acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, in a statement.

As part of the settlement, Valero agreed to make chemical safety improvements at the Benicia refinery.

Emissions from the refinery have plagued nearby residents in recent years, leading city officials in 2019 to urge residents to stay indoors after the refinery started emitting hazardous particulates.

This isn’t the first time the Valero refinery has had to pay up for emitting smoke or chemicals into the air. In April 2017, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District fined Valero $340,000 for 28 violations committed in 2014. A month later, they were hit with four additional violations — one for causing a public nuisance and three for releasing excessive smoke.

The BAAQMD is accepting comments on the refineries’ plans through Thursday at 5 p.m. Comments should be sent to[BenIndy Editor: PLEASE SEND YOUR COMMENTS on Valero’s Air Monitoring Plans and Quality Assurance Project Plans to the Bay Area Air District.  They are accepting comments on the refineries’ plans through Thursday, April 20 at 5 p.m. Details on the BenIndy here.]

Grace Hase of the Bay Area News Group contributed to this article.

Read more! As Air Quality is so essential to our health, you might want to check out these resources: