Daily Breeze: Torrance refinery flaring serves as backdrop for public meeting over safety, pollution issues
Two regulatory agencies met with Torrance residents Monday over refinery safety and emission issues as the plant was forced to flare for a second consecutive day, serving as another reminder to critics of its reliability and pollution problems.
Now owned by PBF Energy, the plant was among 57,582 Southern California Edison customers that lost power at 3:31 a.m. over a wide area that included parts of Torrance, Hawthorne, Gardena and Los Angeles, said utility spokeswoman Mary Ann Milbourn.
Most had their power restored by about 4:48 a.m.
However, 1,589 Edison customers remained without power for most of the day and weren’t expected to see it restored until late Monday afternoon. The cause of the outage remained under investigation late Monday.
Electrical problems inside the refinery were blamed for a flaring episode on Sunday morning as well. Refinery officials indicated that flaring could continue during the week as units inside the plant are restarted.
The flaring, which occurs as the refinery releases pressure and burns off excess emissions, prompted the lowering of road barriers and closure of Crenshaw Boulevard between Del Amo Boulevard and 190th Street for about two hours Monday morning as a precaution.
The road closure was lifted about 10 a.m. just as officials with the South Coast Air Quality Management District were providing an update on the planned expenditure of an accumulated $2.77 million in fines collected from ExxonMobil, the refinery’s former owner.
The money comes from penalties assessed on the company for excess emissions caused by a February 2015 explosion that knocked the refinery offline for more than a year and its subsequent restart.
The AQMD has another $22 million in fines collected from the Torrance refinery and others for excessive flaring and the increased pollution that results.
That money also could be spent on projects such as a louder refinery warning siren, air quality monitors or similar projects to benefit the community, officials told a crowd of more than 70 at the meeting.
Environmental Protection Agency representatives announced at the meeting that the agency will soon conclude an investigation launched in the wake of the February 2015 blast that’s assessing whether a required refinery risk-management plan accurately measures a worst-case-disaster scenario.
In the case of the refinery, that would involve the release of an estimated 5,200 pounds of hydrofluoric acid that could create a 3.2-mile toxic plume capable of killing or injuring 255,524 residents, said Kay Lawrence, chief of emergency preparedness and prevention for the Superfund Division.
About 250,000 pounds of HF is stored at the refinery, according to the RMP that was last updated in June 2014, Lawrence said.
Opponents have contended the risk is understated given the total amount stored on site and want to see its use banned at the Torrance refinery.
Critics renewed those calls Monday in the wake of a report the AQMD released Friday that outlined commercially available alternatives to its use.
“The best prevention is the elimination of unnecessary risk,” resident Ramey McCoy said.
Republican Assemblyman David Hadley insisted at the meeting that the acid should not be used in a refinery in a densely populated area such as Torrance and said the report showed there was no “insuperable barrier” to removing it.
At a press conference HF opponents held before the meeting, Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu said the community had been “hoodwinked” into believing an additive mixed into the acid actually made it any safer when there was no evidence that was the case.
And Al Muratsuchi, who is seeking to recapture his 66th District Assembly seat he lost to Hadley two years ago, presented a six-point refinery safety plan at the same press conference that included an HF ban and an independent advisory panel focused on disaster preparedness.
Local activists also met privately with AQMD and EPA officials for about 90 minutes before the meeting to present them with research compiled by Sally Hayati, president of the Torrance Refinery Action Alliance.
The TRAA said its research shows the supposedly modified HF in use at the refinery is only marginally safer than unmodified acid and will still form a potentially deadly toxic cloud.