Tag Archives: Toluene

‘First I Had Heard of It’: Valero’s Benicia Refinery Secretly Released Toxic Chemicals for Years

The Valero refinery in Benicia (Craig Miller KQED)

Air district holding a virtual public workshop on the Valero releases on Thursday (tonight – 3/24)

KQED News, by Ted Goldberg, February 24, 2022
[BenIndy Editor: More at SAVE THESE DATES…  – R.S.]

Officials in Benicia and Solano County want to know why Valero’s oil refinery there was able to release excessive levels of hazardous chemicals for more than 15 years before regional air regulators discovered the emissions — and why those regulators failed for another three years to alert local communities to the potential danger.

A Bay Area Air Quality Management District investigation launched in November 2018 found that one refinery unit produced pollutant emissions that were, on average, hundreds of times higher than levels permitted by the agency.

The emissions consisted of a variety of “precursor organic compounds,” or POCs, including benzene and other toxic chemicals.

An air district rule limits the release of such compounds to 15 pounds a day and a maximum concentration of 300 parts per million. The district’s investigation found that from December 2015 through December 2018, POC emissions averaged 5,200 pounds a day — nearly 350 times the daily limit. The average POC concentration recorded during the first year of that period was 19,148 parts per million, more than 60 times the level set by the agency.

Those findings led the air district to issue a notice of violation to Valero in March 2019. But it wasn’t until late last month that the agency went public and announced it would seek to impose an abatement order requiring the refinery to halt the excessive pollution releases.

“That was the first I had heard of it,” said Benicia Mayor Steve Young, one of four members of the city council who say they want to know why the community was not told earlier.

“We should have been notified by the air district when this was first discovered in 2019, and certainly while negotiations with Valero were going on,” he said.

The Solano County agency responsible for inspecting the Valero refinery and investigating incidents there says it was also left out of the loop.

Chris Ambrose, a hazardous materials specialist with the county’s Environmental Health Division, said in an email his agency “was never formally notified by or requested to participate in BAAQMD’s emissions investigation.”

A health risk assessment carried out by the air district in 2019 found that the refinery’s release of benzene and other pollutants posed an elevated risk of cancer and chronic health threats and violated several agency regulations.

Solano County Health Officer Bela Matyas told KQED that because the wind often pushes refinery emissions away from Benicia, the refinery’s prolonged pollution releases didn’t likely pose any extreme risk to residents.

“But it doesn’t excuse the process. It doesn’t excuse the failure to adhere to standards and it doesn’t provide any excuse for the fact that the city of Benicia was put at some risk as a result of these emissions,” Matyas said.

The air district, which plans to hold a virtual public workshop on the Valero releases on Thursday night, is defending its decision to not alert local officials earlier.

“To protect the integrity of the air district’s investigation and ensure that Valero is held accountable, we were not able to notify the city of Benicia until the investigation was concluded,” district spokesperson Kristine Roselius said.

“Going forward, the air district is committed to additional transparency around these types of ongoing violations, to putting companies in front of our hearing board in a public forum where information can be shared, and working to ensure these types of cases are brought into that forum as quickly as possible,” she said.

The hearing board Roselius referred to is an independent panel created under state law to rule on issues that arise at individual facilities that the air district regulates. The board is scheduled to consider the district’s abatement order at an all-day public session on March 15.

At issue is the infrastructure that produces hydrogen for the facility. Hydrogen is integral to several refining processes, but demand for it throughout the refinery fluctuates. When the supply of hydrogen in the system is higher than the demand for it, the refinery vents the unneeded gas into the atmosphere.

Related Coverage

At issue is the infrastructure that produces hydrogen for the facility. Hydrogen is integral to several refining processes, but

The air district says that soon after it launched its investigation in late 2018, it discovered that Valero had known since 2003 that the refinery was venting hydrogen that contained a range of regulated pollutants, including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene.

In 2019, Valero devised a workaround that reduced emissions significantly but still failed to bring them within allowable limits.

The air district’s proposed abatement order would set up a timeline for the company to design and build a new vent system to bring the facility into compliance, with the work completed no later than the facility’s next “turnaround” — the industry term for a refinery-wide maintenance shutdown.

The Benicia City Council has asked Valero executives and air district officials to answer questions at its March 1 council meeting.

Mayor Young, Vice Mayor Tom Campbell and council members Christina Strawbridge and Lionel Largaespada all say they want to know how the emissions went undetected for so long.

“I’d like to know how it was missed when Valero has had two or three full plant turnarounds since 2003 and the air board is out there every week,” Campbell said.

A Valero representative responded to a request for comment by referring KQED to a city of Benicia press release that includes the air district’s proposed abatement order.

The air district says it’s consulting with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to determine whether the Valero releases violated federal law. It’s unclear when the EPA learned of the refinery problems.

The Benicia facility has been the subject of repeated scrutiny for past problems, leading to investigations by not only air regulators but also county hazardous materials specialists and the California Public Utilities Commission.

Earth Day: Tell Big Oil to knock it off – plug-and-play tweets and posts

Repost from Stop Fooling California (On Twitter)
[Editor:  Some thoughtful and clever images below.  Repost wherever….  – RS]

Stop Fooling California

April 23, 2015

Stop Fooling CAYesterday we celebrated the 45th anniversary of Earth Day.

And you can’t think of the earth without thinking about the way Big Oil’s business model is based on exploiting resources that belong to us all.

Case in point: Kern County’s depleting oil fields is a symptom of ecological overshooting. And Big Oil adds insult to injury when they contaminate our precious water supply with their toxic waste.
Perhaps actor Ed Begley, Jr., summed it up best, “I don’t understand why when we destroy something created by man we call it vandalism, but when we destroy something created by nature we call it progress.”

This Earth Day let’s tell Big Oil to knock it off – for the sake of every person living here. Find plug-and-play tweets and posts below to help get the word out.

Embedded image permalinkTwitter: #BigOil is contaminating CA’s aquifers. Shut them down #waternotoil #StopFoolingCA  @cleanh2oca pic.twitter.com/rvN1Ye4hOD
Facebook:  Everyday, the oil industry is contaminating California’s aquifers.
Embedded image permalinkTwitter: #BigOil illegally dumps chemical waste in hundreds of unlined pits in #Kern. #WaterNotOil #CAdrought #StopFoolingCA pic.twitter.com/ZiDDiXcY9W
Facebook:  Big Oil illegally dumps chemical waste into hundreds of unlined pits in Kern County. You know, so it can seep back into the ground.Why? How do you dispose of your toxic waste?#WaterNotOil
Embedded image permalinkTwitter: #BigOil’s waste forced farmers 2 pull up crops. Just. Stop it. #WaterNotOil #StopFoolingCA pic.twitter.com/pomWu2PSwg
Facebook:  Mike Hopkins had to pull up his cherry trees in 2013 and filed a lawsuit against the oil companies with injection wells around his orchards.“We’re farmers,” Hopkins said. Pulling up the withered fruit trees “broke our hearts.”
Read about Mike here: http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/3489997-181/california-allowed-oilfield-dumping-into?page=3
Embedded image permalinkTwitter:Of all the ways to waste water, #fracking is definitely the dumbest. http://bit.ly/1DpwYyo #StopFoolingCA #CADrought pic.twitter.com/vvUeOsZdjH
Out of all the ways to waste water in California, oil extraction is possibly the worst and definitely the dumbest.
Embedded image permalinkTwitter: Looks like an action movie. It’s actually just @BP_Press making “safe” #energy http://lat.ms/1zCsbEQ pic.twitter.com/3FKIwIkKYM
Facebook:  It’s been five years since BP’s Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 people and spilling millions of gallons of crude oil.Yet the risk to the Gulf of Mexico is as high as ever.How’d Big Oil pull that off?http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-0420-smith-bp-20150420-story.html
Embedded image permalinkTwitter: “Toxic chemicals #BigOil pumps into our water a #tradesecret.” -Nobody ever. #StopFoolingCA http://bit.ly/1INhS5H  pic.twitter.com/yMhlCnk6nf
Facebook:  We respect intellectual property. For example, McDonald’s doesn’t need to tell us what’s in its secret sauce (although we know it’s just Thousand Island Dressing, right?).But you know what we can’t respect? Not telling us what toxic chemicals you’re pumping into our water because it’s a ‘trade secret.’ That’s not your water, Big Oil.http://bit.ly/1INhS5H
#ShutThemDown #WaterNotOil #StopFoolingCA

KFBK News Radio: How safe is Sacramento?

Repost from KFBK News Radio, Sacramento CA
[Editor: Two part series, both shown below.  Of particular interest: a link to 2014 California Crude Imports by Rail.  Also, at the end of the article an amazing Globe and Mail video animation detailing the moments leading up to the devastating explosion in Lac-Megantic Quebec.  – RS]

Part 1: How Safe is Sacramento When it Comes to Crude-by-Rail?

By Kaitlin Lewis, January 16, 2015

Two different railroad companies transport volatile crude oil to or through Sacramento a few times a month. The trains pass through Truckee, Colfax, Roseville, Sacramento and Davis before reaching a stop in Benicia. Last week, a train carrying the chemical Toluene derailed in Antelope.

KFBK’s Tim Lantz reported that three cars overturned in the derailment. There was initially some concern about a possible Hazmat leak.

Union Pacific Railroad insists over 99 percent of hazardous rail shipments are handled safely.

Most of the oil shipped in California is extremely toxic and heavy Canadian tar sands oil, but an increasing portion of shipments are Bakken crude, which has been responsible for major explosions and fires in derailments.

Firefighters around the region are being trained on how to respond to crude oil spills.

However, Kelly Huston with the California Office of Emergency Services says 40 percent of the state’s firefighters are volunteers.

“They’re challenged right from the get-go of being able to respond to a catastrophic event like a derailment, explosion or spill of a highly volatile compound like crude oil,” Huston said.

Since 2008, crude by rail has increased by 4000 percent across the country.

By 2016, crude-by-rail shipments in California are supposed to rise by a factor of 25.

Union Pacific Railroad hosted a training session in November 2014.

Six out of the eight state fire departments listed as having completed the course confirm they were there.

“We were trained in November,” Jerry Apodaca, Captain of Sac City Fire, said.

When asked when he received the first notification of crude oil coming through, he said he didn’t have an exact date, but that it was probably a month or two prior to the training — in September or October.

Apodaca says the U.S. Department of Transportation requires railroads to notify state officials about Bakken oil shipments.

“Basically it just says in this month’s time, there should be 100,000 gallons going through your community. So it didn’t really specify when, or where, or how many cars or what it looks like,” Apodaca said.

And Paul King, rail safety chief of the California Public Utilities Commission, says it’s not easier to distinguish which lines transport Bakken oil through an online map.

“It was hard to interpret and it was too gross. Basically, the whole state of California on an 8 1/2 by 11 piece of paper with what appears to be a highlighter pen just running through the counties,” King said.

See a map of North American crude by rail.
California rail risk and response.
2014 Crude Imports by Rail

PART 2: How Sacramento’s First Responders Will Deal with Oil Spill

KFBK told you Sacramento’s firefighters were being trained on how to respond to a crude-by-rail derailment after shipments had already been going through the region in Part 1.

In Part 2, KFBK’s Kaitlin Lewis will tell you how Sacramento’s first responders will handle a possible oil spill, and what caused that train derailment along the Feather River Canyon.

It’s called a bomb train.

On July 6, 2013, 47 people were killed in Canada when a 73-car train carrying crude oil derailed.

About 30 buildings in the  Lac-Mégantic downtown district were destroyed. The fire burned for 36 hours.

“If we have a derailment and fire of crude oil, fire departments are going to throw large quantities of water and foam to cool the tanks and to put a blanket on the liquid that’s on the ground to help smother that fire,” Mike Richwine, assistant state fire marshal for Cal Fire, said.

Richwine says that’s the only operation for a spill/fire.

In December, 11 cars carrying corn derailed along the Feather River Canyon.

Paul King, rail safety chief of the California Public Utilities Commission reveals the cause was a rail line break.

“That was probably the most concerning accident because that just as well could have been one of the Bakken oil trains, the corn, you know, ran down the bank. It was heavy, and it consequently does put more force on the rail, but it’s about the same weight as an oil train,” King said.

Aaron Hunt, a spokesman for Union Pacific says California has more than 40 track inspectors and 470 track maintenance employees.

“In addition to that, cutting edge technology that we put in to use for track inspection. One of those technologies is our geometry car. It measures using lasers and ultrasonic waves, the space between the two rails — makes sure that space is accurate,” Hunt said.

But Kelly Huston, deputy director of California’s Office of Emergency Services says the real challenge is preparedness in remote areas like the Feather River Canyon, which is designated as a High Hazard Area due to historic derailments.

“In some more metropolitan areas, your response may be quicker and they’ll have that gear and the training and knowledge of, like, how do we fight this kind of fire? And in some areas, like in the more remote areas like we talked about in the Feather River Canyon there’s going to be perhaps maybe volunteer firefighters that have the basic equipment,” Huston said.

The Feather River feeds the California Water Project, which provides drinking water for millions of Californians. The nearest first responder is Butte County Fire Department, which is approximately 31 miles away.

There may be a hitch in California’s new law

Repost from FOX40 Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto

New California Law Aims to Ease Oil Train Safety Worries

January 7, 2015, by Sonseeahray Tonsall

ANTELOPE- Last May, after devastating rail crashes made more damaging by a particular kind of crude oil being carried, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued an emergency order.

It said if more than a million gallons of that crude was moving on the rails, local emergency crews had to be notified.

California’s legislature tried to make that kind of notice permanent – not just for oil but also for 25 of the most toxic substances traveling the rails.

But there may be a hitch in California’s new law.

“Yesterday was a good example of a derailment of  a toxic substance, except it didn’t leak and there was no immediate  threat. But imagine that same rail car going through the Feather River Canyon and polluting the water source for millions of people in California,” Kelly Huston,  Deputy Director of the California Office of Emergency Services said.

Monday’s derailment in Antelope of Union Pacific rail cars carrying poisonous toluene is just one reason why the state Office of Emergency Services has to play the ‘what if’ game every day.

A new state law in effect as of January 1 is supposed to reduce the worry of some of those what-ifs, especially when it comes to the growing number of rail cars shuttling through the Sacramento region, loaded with the kind of highly flammable Bakken crude oil that’s exploded in other train derailments.

“Accidents happen, but our job as a society is to make sure accidents don’t become tragedies,” Assemblyman Mike Gatto said.

The Glendale area democrat co-sponsored AB 380, the new law requiring rail companies to notify emergency responders  of what threats could be riding the rails in their area.

“What’s unique about this legislation is that we’re working with the railroads to try to provide more real-time information…sort of like an Amtrak schedule,” Huston said.

Right now, those details come to emergency crews after the fact, not in advance when they could prepare.

The other unfortunately unique thing about this law is that rail carriers can still argue they don’t have to follow it, even though implementation is supposed to be complete by January 31.

“It is a delicate balance because the  railroads are federally regulated which means  federal laws pre-empt state laws in most cases,” Huston said.

So even though California’s done all it can, it remains to be seen if rail companies will cooperate with a law that could save lives.

Under the continuing federal emergency order, Cal OES gets the shipment information from rail carriers.

Huston would like to create a system that first responders can log in to themselves and get the information real-time.

The effort would not compromise a oil producer’s proprietary information, they said.