Tag Archives: Toxic pollutants

Martinez supervisors deliver letter outlining demands to refinery

[Note from BenIndy: There’s been a whirlwind of activity around Contra Costa’s troubled refineries this week. After a surprise inspection, Contra Costa Health CEO Anna Roth issued an open letter putting Martinez Refining Company “on notice” for ongoing violations before listing a series of demands . (You should really read the letter. Go on. We’ll wait.) Check out the links below the article for more information. This is all fascinating, motivating stuff for residents interested in enacting an industrial safety ordinance in Benicia. Accountability and transparency should be easy between good neighbors.]

The Martinez Refining Co. is the focus of a joint civil action over its release of heavy-metal laden dust. | Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle.

The list of demands also included records of work stoppage orders and near-miss incidents.

NBC Bay Area / Bay City News, by Tony Hicks, December 28, 2023

Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors chair John Gioia and vice chair Federal Glover met with management of Martinez Refining Company on Thursday to discuss county concerns over the company’s frequency of chemical releases and other incidents since Thanksgiving 2022 when the refinery sent 20 to 24 tons of chemicals into the surrounding community.

The supervisors also delivered an open letter to Daniel Ingram, the refinery manager, from Anna Roth, the chief executive officer of Contra Costa Health, documenting incidents and ordering refinery owner PBF Energy to provide CCH’s regulators with full access to the facility, documentation related to deferred maintenance of equipment, and access and data related to maintenance and safety practices.

CCH and the Bay Area Air Quality Mangement District began a surprise inspection of the refinery this week that could last days, or even weeks, a CCH official said.

The letter, dated Thursday, called the number of releases and other incidents “unacceptable” and said they’ve “compromised health and safety at your facility, and in our community.”

“In the past year, CCH has documented 21 releases or spills of hazardous materials at the Martinez refinery,” the letter said. “According to the County’s Community Warning System records, PBF also reported using flares — devices that should only be used as an emergency safety measure to prevent more serious incidents — at a rate of nearly once per week. CCH has documented 46 flaring incidents at the refinery since November 2022.”

Roth wrote PBF is responsible for “ensuring the reliability of its systems and establishing and maintaining a culture of safety at the refinery. The number of incidents at the refinery over the past year is unacceptable for a facility operating in Contra Costa County and points to an apparent fundamental lack of investment on the part of PBF in ensuring the reliability of its systems and maintaining a facility that is safe for its workers and the neighboring community.”

Roth also included a statement Tuesday from BAAQMD executive director Philip Fine saying the air district has joined forces with the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office on civil enforcement against the refinery.

“The recent air quality violations at MRC are troubling and unacceptable. The Air District shares the community’s concern and outrage about these events,” Fine said in the statement. “We are actively investigating and pursuing all legal avenues to ensure MRC is compliant with our regulations and that future violations and community disruptions are minimized.”

Roth wrote, “CCH will not tolerate unsafe business practices at the refinery” and officially notified PBF of CCH actions, including “Beginning immediately, PBF shall allow CCH employees and agents onsite at all times and permit them access to any part of the facility upon request.”

She also wrote that PBF will give CCH all documentation relating to deferred maintenance of equipment at MRC no later than 10 a.m. Jan. 2, for CCH to decide the facility’s work plan for addressing deferred maintenance moving forward.

CCH also wants a list of every employee and resident contractor working at MRC, including job titles and description of responsibilities, and wants the ability to interview them without PBF management present.

The list of demands also included records of work stoppage orders and near-miss incidents.

CCH also reserved the right to come inside the refinery “during any incident that has the potential to impact public health or the environment in accordance with all applicable laws.”

Roth wrote CCH “reserves the right to modify the Community Warning System level of any incident impacting public health without consulting PBF. All costs associated with incident response will be borne by PBF.”

The letter also said, “At least two weeks before PBF’s planned turnaround in early 2024, PBF shall provide to CCH a comprehensive plan outlining when planned flaring will occur during the turnaround and what steps the facility will take to minimize the amount of flaring.”

A turnaround is a scheduled event in which an entire process unit is taken offline for an extended period for work to be carried out.

During that time, CCH wants observers onsite at all times and access to any part of the facility.

Roth ended the letter by writing, “We look forward to collaborating with PBF on our mutual goal of making this facility the good neighbor it aspires to become.”


More about Contra Costa’s search for accountability and transparency from refineries:

Will a year of industrial accidents change the landscape of East Bay’s ‘refinery row’?

[Note from BenIndy: This tidbit from the article below says a lot  – “According to the regional air quality district, the number of flaring events nearly doubled last year, the most since 2019. The trend has been increasing in the last five years. That rise has led some observers to question whether these century-old refineries have reached the end of their lifecycle.” And: “’If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that nothing is going to happen overnight,’ [Healthy Martinez member Heidi] Taylor said. ‘But I believe the cumulative pressure is going to bring about a new era, and I am here for it.’” Thanks, Heidi. We’re here for it too.]

At 12:42 a.m. what appears to be a flare up is occurring at the Martinez Refinery in Martinez, Calif., on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023. | Jose Carlos Fajardo / Bay Area News Group.

An aging industry is angering locals and sparking multiple investigations

East Bay Express, by Will McCarthy, December 16, 2023

On Friday morning, Contra Costa County Public Health warned residents about a new flaring incident at the Martinez Refinery. The agency said that unidentified chemical odors in the air could be related to the event and that “eye, skin, nose or throat irritation may be possible for some people in the affected area.”

The public health advisory in Martinez came exactly one week after the air surrounding the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond took on the distinct smell of burning tires. Over a hundred local residents, disturbed by the noxious odor, reported it to the local air quality agency.

Both incidents, although by no means the most dramatic, were more mishaps in a long year of refinery accidents and violations in the East Bay industrial cluster that forms a sort of refinery row.

Refineries have long been part of the Bay Area’s economic and energy ecosystem. Many of them have existed for over a hundred years and still serve as a significant tax base for cities and a source of reliable union jobs. This is not the first year that refineries have flared, nor is it the first year there have been facility accidents.

In November, an employee received third-degree burns covering most of his body after a fire erupted at Marathon Petroleum’s refinery in Martinez, the second fire that month. A power outage at the Chevron refinery, also in November, caused an enormous plume of black smoke to billow out of the facility for hours. Over the course of 13 months, the Martinez Refining Co., owned by petroleum giant PBF Energy, scattered coke dust and spent catalyst containing heavy metals over the surrounding town, including a high-profile incident the day after Thanksgiving last year that brought a new level of attention to the refinery’s mishaps and another that came just hours before the local high school’s spring homecoming parade.

After an investigation of the odor on Dec. 8, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District determined Chevron’s bioreactor was to blame. The agency issued a public nuisance notice of violation to Chevron — its 35th violation of the year and second in two weeks.

As the region and the nation plot a clean-energy transition, some advocates are asking whether these high-profile incidents are the last gasps of a dying industry that will try to reap as many profits as possible before they are gone.

“Companies are willing to put not just the local communities but their own workers at risk for profit,” said Jacob Klein, organizing manager for the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Sierra Club. “Community safety and worker safety does not seem to be their priority.”

As a result of the most recent accidents, numerous agencies have started investigations into the refineries’ safety practices. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board, the Contra Costa District Attorney’s office, the EPA and even the FBI all have ongoing investigations. Residents of Martinez have filed a class-action lawsuit against the Martinez Refining Company for its chemical releases.

As the calendar moves toward January, Bay Area community advocates are determined not to repeat more of the same next year. Instead they aim to build on the activism that grew after the Thanksgiving incident to permanently transform the relationship between refineries and the community.

“With all of these mishaps affecting more and more people, more and more people are being educated and are educating themselves about these issues,” said Heidi Taylor, a member of Healthy Martinez, a local watchdog group that emerged in the aftermath of the spent catalyst release. “We haven’t seen solutions come to fruition, necessarily, but I do believe there is hope on the horizon.”

According to the regional air quality district, the number of flaring events nearly doubled last year, the most since 2019. The trend has been increasing in the last five years. That rise has led some observers to question whether these century-old refineries have reached the end of their lifecycle.

“The Bay Area’s dangerous, aging refineries are all roughly 125 years old,” said Shosana Welscher, an organizer with Sunflower Alliance and the Refinery Transitions Group. “It’s well over time to decommission them and remediate the contaminated land they occupy for safer, cleaner uses.”

In a statement, the Martinez refinery said that it continues to be committed to earning the right to operate in Martinez.

When asked to comment for this story, the Martinez Refinery Company issued a statement saying, “We have apologized to our neighbors for falling short of meeting that commitment. We have implemented corrective actions, continue to cooperate with all government agencies, and have enhanced our communications with our neighbors and public officials.”

A spokesperson for Chevron, meanwhile, said the air district often provides notices of violations in batches and are sometimes issued years after the actual occurrence. They noted that because of their modernization efforts and investments in new technologies, particulate matter emissions have fallen by 36% since 2018, and flaring events have fallen in the last two years.

Chevron places the highest priority on the protection of employees, communities, and the environment, and continually works to enhance the safety of our operations,” said Caitlin Powell, an external communications advisor for Chevron Richmond.

In a presentation to the Martinez City Council in October, refinery manager Daniel Ingram positioned the company as a crucial player in the California energy economy, one that manufactures 20% of the Bay Area’s gasoline supply and 40% of the region’s jet fuel. Although refineries are a significant contributor to air pollution in the Bay Area, they are not the highest — motor vehicles and wildfires both are larger contributors to overall pollution in the region, according to the air district.

But to some, the refineries across the region are emblematic of the country’s slow shift away from fossil fuels. That creates some cognitive dissonance, where California may chart a clean-energy future as refineries around the bay continue to refine oil for overseas markets.

“We could all end up driving Teslas and the refineries polluting more and blowing up more in our communities,” said Greg Karras, a consultant on refinery transitions. “That’s one possible future.”

Still, to community advocates, that is just one of many possible outcomes. Another future is one in which increased public scrutiny and public control prevents the types of accidents and releases that occurred this year.

“If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that nothing is going to happen overnight,” Taylor said. “But I believe the cumulative pressure is going to bring about a new era, and I am here for it.”

Another flaring incident at troubled Martinez Refining Company; strong odor felt for miles (again)

[Note from BenIndy: On Tuesday, December 19, at 6pm, Benicia City Council will be considering taking the second step in a two-step process that would direct staff to examine bringing an Industrial Safety Ordinance to Benicia. Benicia residents have long wished for the same standards, mechanisms, and systems of care afforded to Martinez through Contra Costa’s Industrial Safety Ordinance –standards, mechanisms, and systems that at least appear to generate genuine accountability and transparency when incidents like this occur. After allegations of decades of deceit (or ignorant noncompliance, if we’re being generous) from Valero’s Benicia Refinery and its ongoing failure to meet essential air quality standards, Benicia’s community has issued a vote of no-confidence in a mostly toothless Cooperation Agreement between the City and Valero, and Valero’s capability or willingness to be proactive and truthful about its ongoing violations and incidents . . . and with it, the community has issued a vote of very-little-confidence in regulatory bodies that are tasked with enforcing compliance with important standards that aim to protect the public’s health and safety. The community has asked Benicia City Council to accept the burden of trust that may have been misplaced in this so-called Cooperation Agreement and the refinery, its parent corporation, and some regulatory bodies. Add your voice to this effort if you care about this community’s health and safety. Tell Benicia City Council that they are the only ones we will trust to protect us from special interests and corporate greed.]

The Martinez Refining Co. is the focus of a joint civil action over its release of heavy-metal laden dust. | Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle.

CBS News Bay Area, by Carlos Castaneda, December 15, 2023

Flaring from the Martinez Refining Company on Friday morning prompted an investigation by Contra Costa Health officials who expressed concerns of increased flaring events since the refinery was investigated in November 2022 following a major chemical release.

“The health department is very concerned that these incidents are continuing to happen,” said Contra Costa County Health Director Dr. Ori Tzvieli during a briefing Friday on the latest flaring. “At a properly functioning refinery, there should not be regular flaring. There should not be releases of catalyst and coke dust onto the community as we have seen.

“So we’re very concerned that there’s underlying processes and safety practices at this refinery that are not up to snuff … It’s not acceptable to have these ongoing releases and flaring events,” Tzvieli said.

Nicole Heath, director of Contra Costa Health’s hazardous materials program, explained that MRC notified CCH via the county’s Community Warning System of an incident at the refinery around 9:15 a.m. Initially, the CWS notification identified the flaring as a Level 1 incident — or one that has no expected off-site consequences.

At the same time, CCH received complaints from residents in the greater Martinez area about a strong odor and deployed its hazmat response team to investigate, later calling for the incident to be elevated to a Level 2 — one that is expected to have an impact on the community. Tzvieli said this could mean those with sensitivities to the odor might experience headaches or other irritations.

Heath noted that CCH’s air monitoring systems did not indicate quantities of gas above health advisory levels published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She said the standards are used to determine the exposure levels at which it’s believed there would be an effect on public health. The CCH team has taken readings throughout the community, including at various elementary schools, she added.

Tzvieli said the monitors are detecting low levels of a gas called hydrogen sulfide and noted there may be other sulfur-containing gases in the air. They can be a byproduct of the refining process, but he said they should not be released.

Heath expanded on the refining process, which requires high temperatures and pressure to convert oils into different gases. Flaring is a means to safely release excess pressure. However, she noted, the increase in flaring events indicates that units are having issues more often — potentially a symptom of a deeper issue.

“So when we get the 72-hour report, our team will be able to investigate the incident and see if there are any regulatory non-compliances as a result of this,” Heath said.

When asked if the refinery would be closed down due to noncompliance, the CCH officials said it would be premature to make that determination.

“But we are very committed to investigating this fully and understanding the causes and working with the facility to have safer practices,” Tzvieli said. “Because as I said, this level of flaring releases is not acceptable to our community.”

In a Friday morning Facebook post, MRC, owned by PBF Energy Inc., wrote that the flaring occurred due to an “operational incident.”

The post said, “We are aware of odor complaints and are conducting community monitoring to investigate the source. All appropriate agencies have been notified, and we are working to address these issues. We apologize for any inconvenience to our neighbors. Flares are an essential part of a refinery’s integrated, engineered safety systems designed to safely manage excess combustible gases by burning them off efficiently and effectively.”

MRC officials were not immediately available to comment further on Friday’s flaring.

Reports of the odor have from as far as Crockett, about 11 miles away.

Last month during another flaring incident, the oil refinery said the burnoff was an essential part of safety for the plant’s systems. That flaring incident came a day after a class-action lawsuit accused the refinery of creating a “public nuisance” by releasing chemicals into the surrounding community.

Last year on Thanksgiving night, the refinery released an estimated 20 to 24 tons of “spent catalyst” into the surrounding community until the following morning, when residents found their yards and vehicles covered in metallic dust.

The refinery failed to alert the county health department and the community warning system, both of which are legally mandated within 15 minutes of a release.

Video: Initial report on Chevron Refinery flaring incident released

This short video features Adam Springer, Assistant Director of Contra Costa County’s Hazardous Materials Program, and Contra Costa Supervisor John Gioa addressing the Chevron Refinery’s recent flaring incident. It is about two-and-a-half minutes long and worth a quick watch.