CA Refinery Hazardous Materials Leak

Thursday, December 10, 2015 @ 04:12 PM gHale

The ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance, CA, had another hazardous materials leak just hours after the state said it would hold a public meeting aimed at improving safety at such plants.

The leak also came days before a scheduled state hearing on the company’s appeal of a $560,000 fine and 19 citations stemming from a February explosion at the refinery.

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The latest leak at the troubled refinery involved fuel vapor and highly toxic hydrogen sulfide escaping from a “dime-size hole” discovered late Friday in a pressurized eight-inch pipe about 25 feet off the ground in the fuel gas treater unit.

Hydrogen sulfide, which ends up removed by the gas treater, is a highly flammable gas that occurs naturally in crude oil, according to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.

At low concentrations, it has the odor of rotten eggs; in high concentrations, the smell often is not present and the gas can kill after a person draws just a few breaths.

“ExxonMobil crews deployed fixed water monitors, which prevented offsite impacts,” Fire Marshal Martin Serna said in an incident report.

Torrance Fire Department’s hazmat unit stemmed the leak at 3:45 a.m. Saturday by using a “patching collar” on the pipe. That occurred about 4 1/2 hours after firefighters initially got the call to the scene.

City officials did not formally notify residents about the leak, but a municipal official who requested anonymity provided the information.

The official noted the leak “appears to be minor, but the trend continues.”

ExxonMobil’s troubled refinery has been the focus of a string of safety-related incidents since February, including an accidental leak in September of dangerous hydrofluoric acid.

The cause of Saturday’s incident remains under investigation, although refinery spokeswoman Gesuina Paras said the cause of the leak was from a “breakdown” in a refinery unit.

The refinery’s flares ended up activated to burn off the hazardous gases and reduce pressure in the leaking pipeline. Officials do not know how much of the hazardous gas released or how soon the leak ended up discovered after it had occurred.

“The Torrance Refinery notified the California Office of Emergency Services that it may have exceeded the reportable quantity of 500 pounds for sulfur dioxide and 100 pounds for hydrogen sulfide,” Paras said, adding the South Coast Air Quality Management District also received notice of the unplanned flaring as required.

The Air Quality Management District was not immediately able to say how much pollutants released.