4 Hurt in CA Refinery Blast

Monday, February 23, 2015 @ 03:02 PM gHale

Gasoline production at an ExxonMobil Corp. refinery near Los Angeles stopped Friday since an explosion at a newly installed processing facility at the Torrance, CA, facility Wednesday left four workers injured and sent smoke and ash into the air.

Refinery manager Brian Ablett said Exxon has an unspecified volume of gasoline in storage at the plant but did not say at what rate it might release those stocks, nor did he have an estimate for when production might resume.

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At the time of the blast, the South Coast Air Quality Management District issued an advisory for areas near the ExxonMobil refinery, where smoke and ash continued to spew after the 9 a.m. blast.

Four contractors received minor injuries in the explosion, which triggered a very large smokestack flare to burn off flammable product, authorities said.

The four contractors went to a hospital for evaluation, and three released, Exxon spokesman Todd Spitler said. The refinery sent workers home for the day.

The facility, a structure several stories tall, ended up shattered. Crews poured water onto the structure afterward, and a fire spokesman said at midday the situation was under control.

The explosion ripped open a massive, box-like filtration unit at the refinery, the electrostatic precipitator, and spread a layer of ash over nearby homes.

The blast also damaged a unit that cleans water for boilers and another unit that removes sulfur from gasoline, Ablett said. Moreover, inspectors need to assess damage to the fluid catalytic cracker, the facility’s main gasoline-producing unit, he said.

“It will be some time before we fully know what happened,” Ablett said just before a meeting with local residents on Friday.

The California Department of Industrial Relations has opened a probe at the refinery, which normally produces 150,000 barrels of gasoline per day.

The refinery still has some production capacity, but the company’s first priority is to make sure all the units are structurally safe, Ablett said

Residents within a mile or two reported feeling a sharp jolt they initially thought was an earthquake.

Electrical contractor Cory Milsap-Harris, 21, was in a switch house next door to the blast site keeping an eye on three colleagues working 8 feet underground in a manhole.

By late morning Wednesday, the Torrance Police Department had removed a “shelter in place” recommendation. However, the Air Quality Management District said residents who could see or smell smoke should avoid outdoor exposure and activity.

Students at 13 nearby schools stayed indoors, said Tammy Khan of the Torrance Unified School District.

The refinery, about 20 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, covers 750 acres, employs over 1,000 people, according to the company. It accounts for about 8.3 percent of the statewide total capacity, according to state officials.

The state Division of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal-OSHA) is leading the investigation, which can take six months to complete.

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