Category Archives: Valero Benicia Refinery

Benicia Herald on Valero Refinery spill of toxic Hydrogen Sulfide

[Note from BenIndy: The Benicia Herald  does not have an online edition but this Wednesday, February 28 article by Galen Kusic, editor, represents the best and most complete coverage of the Valero incident last weekend, including reactions from local representatives for Valero and our own elected officials. Supporting local journalism is crucial for ensuring communities are informed and facilitates transparency and accountability during important local events like this one. You can subscribe to the Herald by email at beniciacirculation@gmail.com or by phone at 707-745-6838.]

Benicia Valero Refinery spill of hydrocarbon releases Hydrogen Sulfide; odor smelled throughout Benicia

By Galen Kusic, Editor, The Benicia Herald, February 28, 2024

On Sat. Feb. 24 at 7:40 a.m., the City of Benicia reported that Benicia Fire Department was working with the Benicia Valero Refinery “on mitigating an odor coming from the refinery.” The source, which was reported as “refined hydrocarbon” was actually Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S), a dangerous neurotoxin.

According to the mandatory 72-hour report provided by Valero Benicia Refinery, between 5:30 and 6 a.m., Benicia Dispatch informed Valero of three odor complaints, and the Refinery received two inquiries related to odors smelled in the community. Residents noticed the strong odor throughout Benicia ranging from neighborhoods near Southampton, First St. and the lower east side.

As stated in the report, refinery operations began investigating the source of the odor and identified hydrocarbon on the roof of Valero Refinery’s Tank 1738 at approximately 6:08 a.m. Valero activated the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) around 7:48 a.m. and cleanup efforts began at approximately 1 p.m. Prior to the event, refinery operations were following emergency shutdown procedures to safely posture a unit that included transferring material to Tank 1738. The bulk of the material on the roof of the tank, currently estimated to contain less than 83 gallons of refined hydrocarbon, was removed by Sat. evening.

Levels of H2S spiked between 5:30 and 8:30 a.m., with levels reaching a maximum five minute average around 400 ppb (parts per billion) and a maximum one hour average around 142 ppb, according to data from the refinery’s fenceline website at www.beniciarefineryairmonitors.org.

“It was a very low level,” said Benicia Fire Chief Josh Chadwick. “Dangerous levels are at 50,000 ppb and we start to get concerned at 1,000 ppb.”

To put that in perspective, those numbers are more than twice the level Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists as an acute Minimum Risk Level (MRL) of 70 ppb over an hour period. The Reference Exposure Level (REL) determined by California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) for H2S is 30 ppb over an hour period.

In the report it states, “A REL is an airborne concentration level of a chemical at or below which no adverse health effects are anticipated for a specified exposure duration. RELs are based on the most sensitive, relevant, adverse health effect reporting in the medical and toxicological literature and are designed to protect the most sensitive individuals in the population by the inclusion of margins of safety.”

Two separate flaring incidents at Valero were reported by Benicia Fire Department on Feb. 18 at 12:39 a.m. and Feb. 23 at 8:30 p.m. Ongoing intermittent flaring that exceeded the 500 lbs. Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) reporting threshold occurred as part of the unit shutdown. According to Valero, the flaring did not contribute to the community odors.

After detecting the odor, Valero provided communication to the City of Benicia and other appropriate agencies and cleanup efforts were initiated to abate the odor. The City of Benicia Fire Department responded as a member of the EOC and also conducted air quality testing using their portable air monitors at multiple points throughout the City. Refinery personnel continued to clean off the material also referred to as “slop” from the tank roof until there wasn’t enough daylight to continue.

The refinery continued to spot clean the remaining residue on the tank roof and expected to have that activity completed by Mon. evening. Samples are being taken of the containers that are holding the material removed from the roof to obtain a more accurate estimate on the amount of oil.

“The strong smell has dissipated,” said Chadwick. “There is currently no health hazard.”

An investigation is underway to determine how the hydrocarbon material got onto the tank. A summary of the investigation will be provided to the Fire Chief once it is completed. Chadwick estimates the investigation can take up to a month.

Valero Refinery is also required to submit a 30-Day Investigation Report with root cause analysis. The 30-Day report will be posted publicly when available. In addition, Solano County Environmental Health will work in conjunction with the City of Benicia to perform a full incident investigation report that will also be released publicly.

It isn’t clear as to why alerts went out at 7:40 a.m. when H2S was discovered on Tank 1738 at 6:08 a.m. and H2S was detected in the air as early as 4:30 a.m. When this question was posed to Valero Benicia Refinery Director of Community Relations and Government Affairs Paul Adler, he responded.

“In order to answer your first question, I suggest that you review the Public Information Bank website along with that policy which defines the requirements of notifications,” he said.

In the Valero Cooperation Agreement, it states that “immediate notification is required in all Level-1 through Level-3 incidents. This was categorized as a Level-3 incident, but nowhere in the agreement does it describe what actual time frame constitutes “immediate notification.”

While the City noted in an update on Sat. evening that the smell was dissipating, driving by the Valero Refinery at 1:30 p.m. on Mon. on I-680 the smell was still strong. According to the City, Solano County Public Health only recommended to shelter in place if the odor smell was too strong and/or if it was “aggravating.”

When asked about further updates on Sun., Mayor Steve Young responded, “I don’t sorry,” but noted that he was meeting with Chadwick and City Manager Mario Giuliani on Mon.

“Hopefully I will have more information then,” he said. Young did not respond for further comment by press time Tue.

There were no injuries associated with the event, and no reports of offsite injuries or property damage have been reported.


Other reporting on this recent refinery incident:

Weekend odor in Benicia caused by mechanical issue at refinery

[Note from BenIndy: You may be wondering why we’ve been slow to report on this incident at the Valero Benicia Refinery when usually we’d be all over it, and well ahead of the game at that. In this case there was a need elsewhere, in the form of helping the good folks in the Benicia Industrial Safety and Healthy Ordinance Working Group (BISHO) put a website together to generate more interest and community engagement in pursuit of Benicia adopting its own industrial safety ordinance. We regret the sparse coverage of this important incident at the Valero Benicia Refinery, but hope you understand that those of us keeping the BenIndy going are also active in service to delivering the brilliant, overarching goal of meaningful City and community oversight over heavy industry in Benicia. Please forgive this lapse in our coverage, and take a minute to review the BISHO.org website. If you are interested in these matters, please sign up using the contact forms on that website. Also, don’t forget to sign up for future incident alerts at www.solanocounty.com/AlertSolano.]

Valero Benicia Refinery file photo. | Paul Chinn / SF Chron.

Vallejo Times-Herald, by Lynzie Lowe, February 26, 2024

The Valero Benicia Refinery informed the Benicia Fire Department on Friday of an unanticipated mechanical issue, which released refined hydrocarbons that caused a strong odor throughout the city of Benicia over the weekend.

When the unit went down, officials said it was necessary to immediately move the product inside into another tank.

“It was discovered that in the process of moving the product, some of it got on the lid of a tank and that was the source of the strong odor,” read a release issued by city officials on Saturday. “There is no specific name for the product; it is a mixture of refined hydrocarbons similar to a light oil. The chemical vapor in the air causing the odor is H2S, hydrogen sulfide. The odor has dissipated significantly in most parts of Benicia.”

Della Olm, Management Analyst and Benicia Fire Department Public Information Officer, said, as of Monday morning, the spill on the tank lid is almost cleaned up and is expected to be completely mitigated by the end of the day Monday or Tuesday morning.

City officials said the Benicia Fire Department has been in continuous communication with Solano County Public Health, who has recommended to only shelter in place if the odor smell was too strong and/or it was aggravating. The Benicia Fire Department staff were also activated at the Valero Emergency Operations Center over the weekend.

“The refinery is flaring intermittently due to the unit shut off on the evening of February 23,” according to a press release. “Intermittent flaring will continue for an undetermined period of time.”

To receive city alerts in the future, sign up for AlertSolano at www.solanocounty.com/AlertSolano.


Other reporting on this recent refinery incident:

Cleanup operations paused at Bay Area refinery after flaring, odor

Valero’s Benicia Refinery.  | File photo.

SF Chronicle, by Danielle Echeverria, February 24, 2024

Cleanup operations paused Saturday night after a work on a mechanical problem at Benicia’s Valero Refinery that caused flaring and emitted an odor in the area, the city announced.

The source of the odor was a refined hydrocarbon that was being moved between two tanks at the refinery, the city’s Fire Department said.

Della Olm, the public information officer for the Fire Department, explained that a unit at the refinery malfunctioned Friday night and had to be shut off, prompting the flaring. Refinery crews were moving the product to a functioning unit Saturday, emitting the odor, she said.

Any additional flaring Saturday was associated with the same issue, she said.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co., Benicia Fire and Valero’s own Fire Department were at the scene and investigating, she said.

“The odor has dissipated significantly in most parts of Benicia,” the city posted in an update early Saturday afternoon.

Cleanup operations paused Saturday night and will restart again Sunday morning, the city posted in an update at 7:40 p.m. Saturday.

“Intermittent flaring will continue for an undetermined period of time,” the city announced. “We will continue to monitor air quality throughout the night.”

Benicia Fire was testing air quality using portable air monitors at multiple points in the city. The department recommended that people remain indoors and close doors and windows if the odor was strong in their area.

Warren Pederson contributed to this report. 


Other reporting on this recent refinery incident:

When refineries break the rules, they pay fines – but these fines rarely reach impacted communities. Time to speak up!

[Note from BenIndy: Take the $1.2 million penalty Valero must pay for major flaring incidents at the Benicia Refinery in 2017 and 2019, for example. These incidents directly impacted the health and safety of Benicia residents, and yet it’s possible that Benicia may never see a dime of that penalty. Why? What can be done to ensure that communities directly, immediately, and tangibly impacted by negative health and safety situations created by refineries are directly, immediately, and tangibly compensated? Frequent BenIndy Contributor Kathy Kerridge got in touch with the following.]

Photo Illustration by Kelly Caminero / The Daily Beast / Getty.

ATTENTION to everyone who would like to see refinery penalties go to the community

We’ve all been waiting for the time when we can have input about how penalty fines from refineries can get back to the local community.

On Thursday, January 18, at 6:00 pm, the Community Advisory Council of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (Air District) will hear from the Air District staff about possibilities.

This is your chance to weigh in on what should happen to the fines the refineries pay when they pollute our air, and how much of the fines will be returned to the local community.

Here is the link to information about the meeting:

Advisory Council Meeting Re.: Penalty Funds

 There will be community input.

The meeting will be both in person in SF and on Zoom.  I hope that people who are concerned about this can go into the meeting in person. If not, please plan to attend by Zoom.

This is particularly important for all refinery communities.  These fines have been substantial, and we want to make sure that the communities that have been harmed at least benefit from some these penalties.

Please spread the word.  Contact kathykerridge@gmail.com if you have questions or if you would like to try to carpool or go together on BART.

Kathy Kerridge
BCAMP Board Member
Good Neighbor Steering Committee
Progressive Democrats of Benicia Chair


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