[Note from BenIndy: It is fascinating how hard it is to find and pin down good coverage of industrial accidents – especially refinery fires, plant explosions, and so on – when they occur in Texas. We have Common Dreams and ABC13/KTRK in Texas to thank for their coverage today. Perhaps more information about the source of the fire, the danger the toxic smoke and particles in the air in Shepherd may pose, and any additional impacts will be made more available tomorrow. From one refinery town to another, Benicia surely sends Shepherd its heartfelt hopes for a speedy recovery for the town, a thorough investigation of the root causes for this absolutely heinous disaster, and the creation of additional protections for the safety and health of its residents.]
The explosion resulted in a massive fire as residents in and around the town of Shepherd were ordered to stay inside and turn off their HVAC systems to avoid contact with the toxic smoke and particles in the air.
At least one worker was reported injured and the surrounding community placed under a shelter-in-place order after an explosion at a chemical plant in the town of Shepherd, Texas on Wednesday resulted in a monstrous and toxic fire.
Roughly 60 miles north of Houston in Jacinto County, the explosion and subsequent chemical blaze took place at the Sound Resource Solutions facility, a petroleum processing plant. A source told ABC 13 News that a 1,000-gallon propane tank sits in the middle of the fire while various highly flammable toxic chemicals and materials are used at the plant.
Shelter-in-place order issued after chemical plant explosion in Shepherd, Texas; smoke visible for milespic.twitter.com/0krc7baQlk
“Polk County Emergency Management recommends that residents along US Hwy 59 from Goodrich to Leggett shelter-in-place and turn off HVAC systems in homes and businesses immediately,” said a local emergency response from officials in neighboring Polk County. “At this time, the effects of the chemical in the air are unknown.”
According to the Sound Resource Solutions website, the chemical products and solvents used or generated at the processing plant include: xylene, toluene, acetone, methy ethyl ketone, phosphoric acid, acetic acid, sulfuric acid 93, various isoproply alcohols, hexan, and others.
Local affiliate Fox 26 was providing live coverage:
There is no confirmed information about the cause of the fire, though some local outlets reported talking with workers who said a forklift accident may have been the initial cause that set off a larger chain reaction.
After hearing five and a half hours of public commentary, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District postponed its scheduled vote Wednesday on whether to require refineries to install technology that would greatly reduce the amount of pollution they emit.
Board chair Cindy Chavez asked the board to reschedule its vote so the panel could have a “thoughtful discussion” of the proposals before it. The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on June 16.
The issue before the board involves fluid catalytic cracker units, commonly known as “cat crackers,” which are a major source of industrial pollution. The proposal would require refineries to install technology that reduces particulate emissions from the units by 70 percent, according to the air district.
A district analysis predicts that the new standards would have positive health impacts — particularly for low income communities of color that surround the Bay Area’s refineries and have borne the brunt of their environmental impact. In Richmond, the asthma rate is twice the state average.
The district has calculated that exposure to particulate matter from the Chevron refinery in Richmond increases mortality in the region by up to 10 deaths per year, while the PBF Energy refinery in Martinez adds up to six deaths per year.
The proposed changes to the Chevron plant alone could result in up to $27 million in health cost savings to those living nearby, according to an air district analysis, based on fewer days missed from work, fewer respiratory ailments and other health impacts.
Environmentalists pointed out that the technology has been widely used for years across the country, including in oil-friendly states like Texas.
“It’s hard to believe regulators in Texas 15 years ago valued their constituents’ lives more than Bay Area representatives do,” Jed Holtzman, a senior policy analyst with the environmental organization 350 Bay Area, told the board Wednesday. “So this should not be a complicated decision for you.”
Yet the refineries — backed by allies in organized labor who work at the plants — insisted that the cost to install the technology would be prohibitive, making the plants uncompetitive and leading to massive job losses.
The $800 million cost of implementation would “force us to close the Martinez refinery,” Timothy Paul Davis, PBF Energy Western Region president, wrote to the air district in April. That would put 600 full-time employees out of work, plus another 2,000 members of the local building trades union who work on other projects at the plant, said Kevin Slade of the Western States Petroleum Association, an industry group.
The air district found Davis’ estimate to be grossly inflated, estimating that it would cost just $255 million to make the changes at the PBF Martinez refinery and $241 million for the Chevron refinery in Richmond. The district found that the oil companies could pay for the cost of the upgrades by a one or two-cent per gallon fuel increase. Other speakers Wednesday were skeptical that PBF would shutter a refinery that it just bought in 2019 from Shell Oil for $1 billion.
Dozens of local union members and leaders — among the 198 people who addressed the board Wednesday — said they feared losing their jobs if the technology were mandated.
Andrew Scheiber, a Benicia resident who used to work for a refinery, was among the speakers skeptical that plant workers could find a “just transition” to another line of work should the refineries cut jobs.
“This ‘just transition’ everybody loves to talk about doesn’t exist,” Scheiber said. There are few other kinds of jobs that involve similar skill sets “and when they do come up there are hundreds if not literally thousands of applicants.”
A letter to the board signed by the leaders of six Bay Area building trades unions said: “Union members — your constituents — living and working in the Bay Area depend on these refinery jobs to raise their families well, put food on their tables, put their kids through college, and live a successful and fulfilling life.”
An alternative analysis conducted by UCLA’s Lufkin Center for Innovation found that new technology wouldn’t kill jobs, but rather create thousands more.
The UCLA report, conducted in conjunction with Communities for a Better Environment and the environmental research firm Inclusive Economics, found that installing the wet gas scrubbers would yield “thousands of engineering, construction, and other installation jobs, upwards of 4,600 jobs between the two refineries.”
“Our lungs can’t any longer,” said Zolboo Namkhaidorj, Richmond Youth Organizer for Communities for a Better Environment, after the meeting, urging the air district to approve the cat cracker rule.
“Refineries have mounted a massive misinformation campaign to sink this rule, threatening our communities with false doomsday scenarios,” Namkhaidorj said. “Shame on them, after decades of spewing pollution that has cost local Black, indigenous, and people of color families their health and livelihoods.”
Bonnie Lockhart of Oakland was one of several speakers Wednesday who questioned seeing the issue as one of workers versus greens.
“Why are we framing this decision as jobs versus the environment, when it’s really health versus corporate profits?” Lockhart asked.
Instead of suggesting that the only way to pay for the cost of the upgrades would be through layoffs or higher gas prices, Lockhart questioned why the discussion wasn’t focused on “the obscene profits” of the fossil fuel companies and the high salaries of its CEOs.
Her suggestion to the oil companies and their top executives: “Don’t buy a yacht this year.”
Joe Garofoli is The San Francisco Chronicle’s senior political writer.
[BenIndy editor: Residents of Benicia have for years expressed serious concern about the lack of adequate air monitoring in our “refinery town.” For an excellent background on the lead-up to this important meeting, see Marilyn Bardet’s “Letter to BAAQMD: Must Enforce Refinery Air Monitor Requirements”. Mark your calendar & plan to attend on June 30. – R.S.]
Virtual Meeting on Benicia Community Air Monitoring Site Selection
Invitation to public, sent via email on May 27, 2021
Dear Benicia Community and Stakeholders,
You are invited to attend a virtual community meeting to learn about air quality monitoring and help shape the future of community air monitoring in the Benicia area.
In a joint effort with the City of Benicia, the Air District identified candidate locations in Benicia for a new community air monitoring station. At this meeting, Air District staff will share the sites under consideration and information about how the sites were selected. Community members and stakeholders will have the opportunity to inform final site selection.
The workshop will be held using Zoom and will take place on Wednesday, June 30, 2021, from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM.
Login information to follow in a subsequent notice.
The Air District monitors air quality as part of ongoing efforts to inform and protect public health. One of the ways the Air District does this is by collecting fees to install, operate, and maintain air monitoring stations in communities near refineries. These air monitoring stations will provide additional information about the levels of pollution experienced by these communities.
The Air District invites you to participate in this community meeting to discuss and review the site selection process and provide feedback on a community air monitoring station within the Benicia community.
Air District staff want to ensure a fair and equitable virtual workshop experience and provide opportunities for all interested parties to participate. Workshop materials will be available on the Air District’s Special Air Monitoring Projects web page beginning June 7, 2021.
Simultaneous language interpretation can be provided upon request at least 72 hours before the event. Contact Brian Butler at firstname.lastname@example.org or 415-603-7721 to request interpretation.
Questions may be sent by e-mail to email@example.com.
Para información en español, llame al 415-749-4609
Nói Tiếng Việt xin gọi 415-749-4609
Working to protect public health, air quality, and the global climate,
Your Air District
From: Marilyn Bardet <email> Subject: BAAQMD oversight/enforcement of Reg 12 – Rule 15, the Petroleum Refining Emissions Tracking Rule. Date: October 21, 2020 at 3:37:37 PM PDT To: Marcy Hiratzka <firstname.lastname@example.org>
October 21, 2020
BAAQMD Board of Directors
Chair: Council member Rod Sinks, City of Cupertino
Vice Chair: Supervisor Cindy Chavez, Santa Clara County
Secretary: Supervisor Karen Mitchoff, Contra Costa County
Sent via email: <email@example.com>
Subject: BAAQMD oversight and enforcement of Regulation 12 – Rule 15, the Petroleum Refining Emissions Tracking Rule.
Dear Chair Rod Sinks, Vice Chair Cindy Chaves, Secretary Karen Mitchoff and Direrctors
I’m writing as a 34-year resident of Benicia and a founding active member of the Good Neighbor Steering Committee, [“GNSC”] which was organized in 2000 to address public concerns and protect community health and safety as related to operations of the Valero refinery. I’d hope to express the following concerns at the Special Meeting held as a webinar today, but was unable to do so.
On August 1st, the Board received emailed letters from Jay Gunkelman and myself, outlining problems to date with refineries’ fenceline monitoring systems’ performance and reliability.
As you recall, Rule 15 was adopted in April, 2016. It required Bay Area refineries to install new, best technology fenceline monitoring systems, with raw data to be collected in real time at 5 minute intervals, and with a website provided for public access to that data.
After 4 years since Rule 15’s adoption, for the sake of public health and community safety, we would have expected by now that the Air District would have enforced standards for reliable performance of fenceline monitoring systems at all Bay Area refineries, and that data quality would be assured. Yet, to date, as per Rule 15 protocols, the District has not yet signed off on—e.g., given final approval of— the refineries’ fenceline monitoring and quality assurance plans. This is an unacceptable situation.
Today, we encourage the board and staff to fully address the various problems associated to Rule 15’s implementation at all Bay Area refineries.
Pertinent to the Benicia community, Valero recently asserted that their Benicia refinery will be “the last man standing” among Bay Are refineries, and will continue to refine crude oil and produce petroleum products. Emissions tracking and fenceline monitoring will continue to be of particular concern to Benicians. The reliability of Valero’s fenceline systems’ performance is in serious doubt.
In 2017, as per Rule 15 Guidelines, the GNSC submitted substantial comments to the District on Valero’s plans that had been created by Sonoma Tech for Valero.
In late 2019, the Benicia City Council voted to encourage Valero to get their fenceline systems installed and up and running before the District’s original deadline. Valero complied, installing 3 pathway systems and creating a public website to provide access to the data collected. Later, when public questions began to arise, Valero said that the new Hydrogen Sulfide monitoring system they’d purchased had never been field tested. After a year’s worth of data collection, data reliability remains questionable even for “signature” gases, including benzene. According to the Federal EPA’s Benzene Fenceline Monitoring Program, Valero’s benzene emissions were not only found to be the highest in the Bay Area; Valero’s total benzene emissions are four times greater than the four other refineries in the region.
It is implausible that there would be so few reportable detections, as the website routinely reports. Repeatedly, the website indicates that instruments are offline, or data is “pending final review.” Whose review? There is apparently no public access to archived data. Good science requires independent validation of data. Credibility of the systems and the data collection is at stake. Without independent review, public confusion and doubt about the sytems’ reliability will persist.
Right now, there is no independent, 3rd party data analysis required by the Air District. Yet verification of data for accuracy is crucial to public trust. Unfortunately,in our case, the District has still not yet approved Valero’s fenceline monitoring system plan including the required quality assurance plan as mandated by Rule 12-15.
In the meantime, concerned Benicia residents formed a non-profit, incorporated in 2019, to provide an independently operated, community-based air-monitoring station for Benicia, called Benicia Community Air Monitoring Program. The system will be operated by solar, and will meet international standards for data quality. (Funding was appropriated through GNSC’s urging amendments to the Settlement Agreement negotiated with Valero and City of Benicia.) We expect the new station will be operational by the end of 2020.
How is it possible that a small community group in Benicia can locate, configure and install an array of air monitoring equipment in less than a year, while the refineries in the Bay Area are still installing technologically inferior fenceline systems four years after they were told by the BAAQMD that these systems had to be approved and proven reliable, thus producing accurate data by now?
I reiterate my request made in my letter of August 1st:
We ask the Board to compel Valero to present all of the data associated with these systems to the public as soon as possible. In addition, we would like to see all raw data produced by the fenceline system at Valero so that it can be reviewed by independent experts. We ask that the public have access to all District staff comments on refineries’ monitoring plans including quality assurance plans.
Thank you for your timely consideration of these matters.