[Note from BenIndy Contributor Nathalie Christian: Please note that this BAAQMD news release regards separate and new violations distinct from the 16 years of undisclosed, unchecked emissions at the Valero-operated refinery that were first reported in early 2022. According to this release, Valero has also failed to measure and report widespread hydrogen emissions violations at the Benicia Refinery – for up to a decade. The risk to our community is presently unknown. What is known is that our ‘good neighbor’ Valero is failing our community and will continue to do so unless oversight and remediation mechanisms improve. After yet another decades-long series of violations, a pattern of alleged dangerous incompetence at best, and lawless disregard for our community and environment at worst is clearer than ever. Benicia deserves better, and you can help. The Air District will hold a hearing to consider issuing the abatement order, where the public can participate and demand action. I will post the notice for that hearing when it is scheduled, and you can sign up for Hearing Board updates at https://www.baaqmd.gov/contact-us/sign-up-for-information. The bolded elements below reflect my added emphasis.]
Requested abatement order would require the refinery to install pollution control equipment
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 10, 2023
SAN FRANCISCO – The Bay Area Air Quality Management District announced today that it is seeking an abatement order from the agency’s independent Hearing Board to require Valero Refining Co. to cease ongoing violations of Air District regulations at its Benicia refinery.
The Air District is seeking an abatement order to require Valero to install pollution control equipment on eight pressure relief devices, or PRDs, installed on the refinery’s hydrogen compressor unit. PRDs are safety devices used to prevent extreme overpressures that could cause catastrophic equipment failure – not unlike the pressure relief valve on a home pressure cooker, but on an industrial scale.
Air District regulations require pollution control equipment to be installed on PRDs that experience two or more releases within five years. Valero’s PRDs have been subject to these requirements for years, and in some cases for over a decade, but Valero has failed to install the required pollution control equipment.
“The extensive violations discovered at Valero’s Benicia refinery are of great concern and the Air District is seeking an abatement order to ensure that Valero takes action to prevent harmful emissions from impacting the communities surrounding the refinery,” said Alexander Crockett, the Air District’s chief counsel. “Our priority is to protect the health and well-being of our communities, and we will vigorously pursue enforcement measures to achieve cleaner and safer air for all residents of the Bay Area.”
PRDs release emissions during upset conditions and not on a day-to-day basis. However, when PRDs releases do occur, the emissions go directly to the atmosphere unless they are captured and/or abated. The Air District is seeking this abatement order to require abatement equipment to prevent emissions from going into the atmosphere if and when any PRDs do experience releases.
Air District staff discovered these PRD violations in connection with an investigation into a series of widespread violations involving Valero’s hydrogen system, including extensive emissions from a hydrogen vent for which the Hearing Board issued an abatement order in 2022. Valero is required to report releases from its hydrogen system PRDs to the Air District, but it failed to do so for over ten years. As a result, these ongoing violations did not come to light until the Air District conducted further investigations after it found the hydrogen vent violations.
The Air District’s Hearing Board is an independent tribunal created by state law with the power to order violators to cease operating until they come into compliance with Air District regulations. Hearing Board proceedings are open to the public, and the public is encouraged to participate and comment when the Hearing Board holds a hearing to consider issuing the requested abatement order. Once the hearing is scheduled, a link will be posted on the Air District’s website at www.baaqmd.gov. The public can also sign up for Hearing Board updates at https://www.baaqmd.gov/contact-us/sign-up-for-information.
The Hearing Board is not empowered to impose monetary penalties for violations of Air District regulations. The Air District will take separate enforcement action to assess penalties for these violations to the maximum extent provided for by law. The purpose of this abatement order request is to seek an order requiring Valero to cease its ongoing violations with respect to these PRDs and immediately come into compliance.
Read more! As Air Quality is so essential to our health, you might want to check out these resources:
- Benicia Valero Refinery failing to meet Bay Area Air District requirements
- We Can’t Improve What We Don’t Measure – Oil giants like Valero are spending big to avoid sharing crucial climate data
- Benicia Herald: ‘Refineries failing at fenceline monitoring’
- BCAMP ACTION ALERT: Tell Our Air District That Valero Is Failing
- Benicia Community Air Monitoring Program website
- Smell My City (On Apple App Store, or on Google Play Store)
- Refinery Air Watch website
- Please – anyone can report Air Quality issues/events to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District: General Public Information: (415) 749-4900, or Air Quality Complaints: 1-800-334-ODOR (6367)