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.
ABC7, by J. R. Stone, November 29, 2023
MARTINEZ, Calif. (KGO) — Flaring in the form of at least two massive flames could be seen at the Martinez Refining Company for much of Wednesday evening.
This comes just a day after a “proposed class action lawsuit” was filed against the company for past chemical releases during flaring incidents.
Those from the Martinez refinery said there was an operational incident that happened around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. The refinery has issued at least two statements saying that the appropriate agencies were notified, and a community notification was given. Those from the refinery say, “We have been maintaining clean combustion during the flaring, and ground-level air monitoring has shown normal measurements.”
We talked with Mitzi Crawford, who lives about a mile away and saw the flaring.
“Number one, there’s a sound kind of a roaring, sound kind of made my tension like oh – something’s happening – so I just turned to look over towards the refinery and there’s quite a large fire that’s coming out of there. Concerning for the whole neighborhood, if people start to wonder and don’t know why you have asthma and all these other things, chronic conditions such as that they don’t investigate it, it’s concerning to see some of this,” said Crawford.
This flaring comes just a day after a proposed class action lawsuit was filed against the Martinez refinery alleging the location has created a “public nuisance.” Citing Thanksgiving of 2022 when 2,024 tons of “spent catalyst” was released into the community leaving metallic dust on things.
“Is there a belief that it effects anyone’s health?” we asked attorney Blair Kittle.
“I think there is definitely a concern, that is part of what we’re asking for in our suit, to make sure there is medical monitoring. A regime that people can go and find that out for sure at scale paid for by the refinery, so there is definitely a concern,” said Kittle.
Mitzi also sent us this cell phone video showing what appears to be particles in the air. She is concerned about what may have been released. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District says their inspectors are investigating the flaring.
In their statement, the Martinez refinery went on to say that “flares are an essential part of a refinery’s integrated, engineered safety systems, designed to safely manage excess gases through efficient, effective combustion.”
Here is the statement issued by the Martinez Refinery:
“At approximately 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, November 29, an operational incident occurred at the Martinez Refinery that led to flaring that was visible offsite. In following our procedures, appropriate agencies were notified, and we promptly issued a Community Warning System Level 1 notification.
We have been maintaining clean combustion during the flaring, and ground-level air monitoring has shown normal measurements. You are welcome to view real-time measurements at our fenceline air monitoring website: http://www.fenceline.org/martinez/. Looking forward, we expect intermittent flaring to continue while our employees address these issues.
Flares are an essential part of a refinery’s integrated, engineered safety systems, designed to safely manage excess gases through efficient, effective combustion. You can learn more about flaring on our website: https://martinezrefiningcompany.com/about-flaring/.
We apologize for any inconvenience to our neighbors and thank our employees for their professional response. As always, we have a community inquiry phone number you can call 925-313-3777 or 925-313-3601 during off work hours. Thank you.”
SF Chronicle, by Megan Fan Munce, November 17, 2023
Two Bay Area agencies announced they would collaborate on a joint civil enforcement action against the Martinez Refining Co. following several toxic dust releases over the past year.
On Thursday, the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office announced it, along with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, would be combining prosecutorial resources to make sure the refinery is following state law and air quality regulations.
Over the past year, the Martinez refinery has released dust into the air four times. Oil refining can produce fine dust that can damage the heart and lungs when inhaled, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Most recently, Martinez residents voiced frustration after an Oct. 6 release sparked air quality concerns just as a local high school was preparing for its homecoming game and parade. County officials later announced there was no risk to public health.
Last Thanksgiving, a release of toxic white dust prompted county health officials to warn residents not to eat food from their gardens. Officials advised residents to wear N95 respirators when cleaning up the dust, which they said contained elevated levels of heavy metals.
In January, Contra Costa Health formally asked the district attorney to consider taking legal action against the Martinez refinery, alleging the company failed to notify the county of the release until two days after it began. The EPA and FBI have also been probing into the company’s actions.
That Thanksgiving release will be one of many the joint civil action seeks to address, according to the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office.
“The goal of this joint effort with the Air District is to achieve a resolution that ensures environmental compliance, and to rebuild and foster a safer community for the residents of Martinez,” Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton said in a statement.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Contra Costa Health have also submitted notices of violation against the Martinez refinery and will be participating in the civil joint action.
PBF Energy, which owns the Martinez refinery, could not be reached for a comment Thursday night. Ted Asregadoo, a spokesperson for the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office, told the East Bay Times the company was aware of the joint civil action and were “open to the process.”
Alexander Crockett, chief counsel for the Air District, said in a statement that the “comprehensive approach” would ensure the refinery becomes compliant with all air quality regulations.
The Martinez Refining Company’s manager told the Martinez City Council on Wednesday operators were unaware last Thanksgiving’s release of spent catalyst was affecting the outside community until the next day, and the refinery held off notifying authorities until it could assess whether the release was harmful.
Refinery manager Daniel Ingram apologized and told the council the company has taken numerous corrective actions to make sure the events of last Thanksgiving weekend don’t happen again.
The refinery released an estimated 20 to 24 tons of “spent catalyst” into the surrounding community from about 9:30 p.m. Nov. 24 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.
County health officials didn’t find out about the release until the following Saturday when alerted to social media posts about the dust.
Ingram told the council the delay was at least partially because refinery officials were unaware there was a community impact until the next day, when contacted by a community member. Then they were busy trying to ascertain whether the release was harmful.
Ingram said the refinery has since “adjusted our procedures” so it notifies outside authorities as soon as the slightest measure of a release is noted.
“The moment that alarm goes off, we’re making that notification immediately,” Ingram said.
Initial testing of the Thanksgiving release showed the dust contained elevated levels of aluminum, barium, chromium, nickel, vanadium and zinc, all of which can cause respiratory problems.
Ingram said the refinery has taken 11 specific corrective actions: two associated with equipment, six associated with refinery procedures, and three associated with better training.
As an example, the unit in which the Thanksgiving problem occurred was coming back online after being in a “hot standby mode.”
Bringing it back online was a manual task controlled by an individual who was handling multiple control points. Now more of the process is automatic and, if there’s a problem, the process must be stopped sooner.
Ingram also addressed three smaller releases of “coke dust” incidents that have occurred since July. Coke dust is a byproduct of oil refining. The first release, on July 11, lasted less than a minute and created steam with coke dust, which was carried into the community by wind.
The second release was on July 22 and was contained on-site. The third release happened Oct. 6 and was termed by refinery officials as “brief” in a unit that has since been taken offline. Nevertheless, all three incidents are still being investigated. But Ingram pointed out that, under the refinery’s new procedures, the refinery notified the health department and the community immediately.
Ingram said internal investigations have prompted procedural corrections to have been made, as well as started new ‘red tag” safety drills, going through various emergency scenarios to respond better in the future.
“We do sincerely apologize to our neighbors and the community for these incidents. And I know that actions speak louder than words … we are working overtime right now to investigate thoroughly each and every of these incidents and come up with the appropriate corrective actions that address the root causes of these incidents.”
Ingram talked about the refinery’s new “Goal 0” safety policy, which refers to zero safety incidents as a cultural goal of the company. He said everyone at the refinery is dedicated to Goal 0.
“We know we have to earn the right to operate in the community that hosts us, and we are very, very disappointed that we have failed to do that,” he said.
Ingram said the refinery has implemented new mandatory safety training and has expanded its environmental safety staff, hiring new senior environmental engineers and 20 new operators. He also said he will return to give the council regular monthly updates.
The Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office is investigating MRC for failing to notify authorities of the Thanksgiving release. The Board of Supervisors put together an oversight committee, including residents from affected areas, to investigate the cause and whether the release increased risk of community health problems. [Emph. added by BenIndy.]