SCAQMD Initiates Enforcement and Rulemaking Actions in Response to Excessive Flaring at Torrance Refinery

October 13, 2016

The South Coast Air Quality Management District today announced several enforcement and rulemaking actions aimed at reducing repeated and excessive flaring from the Torrance Refining Co. refinery.

“The Torrance Refining Co. has been responsible for an unacceptably high number of flaring events resulting from shutdowns at its Torrance facility,” said Wayne Nastri, acting executive officer for the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

“We share the community’s concern about these flaring events,” he said. “Starting today we are initiating new enforcement and rulemaking actions aimed at minimizing these events.”

SCAQMD will issue today a Notice of Violation to the refinery for a violation of the agency’s Rule 402, which prohibits any facility from causing a public nuisance due to air pollution. On Tuesday, when the refinery and thousands of residences in the South Bay lost power, the facility’s flare emitted tall flames and billowing black smoke for hours. The City of Torrance issued a shelter-in-place order for residents near the refinery during a short period due to the incident.

Next week, SCAQMD plans to file a petition for an administrative order, known as an Order for Abatement, with the independent SCAQMD Hearing Board. The order will seek improvements in:

  • Reliability of power supply;
  • Electrical infrastructure at the refinery;
  • Enhanced monitoring; and
  • Overall maintenance.

Following SCAQMD’s filing of the proposed order, members of the public will be notified of the hearing times and dates and will have an opportunity to testify at the proceedings.

Finally, SCAQMD will initiate rulemaking to address flaring and other issues at the Torrance facility and all other Southland refineries.  Potential new requirements will include:

  • Higher mitigation fees and fee caps for emissions from flaring events;
  • Enhanced backup power supply systems to avoid flaring events due to power interruptions; and
  • Operation of air pollution monitoring systems that are capable of providing real-time information to the community on air emissions and air pollution exposure.

SCAQMD staff intends to present the proposed regulations to its Governing Board next year.

Flaring is a safety measure that occurs when a refinery or one of its units shuts down due to a power cut or breakdown and the facility releases gas to an elevated flare stack. The combusted gas typically causes large flames, and in the event of a complete loss of power, thick black smoke.

In addition to this week’s multi-day flaring event at the Torrance refinery, the facility flared extensively on Sept. 19 following a power cut, and also on July 11 due to a software malfunction. PBF Energy, based in Parsippany, N.J., purchased the refinery from ExxonMobil and took over operation of the facility as of July 1.

“All refineries need to do their utmost to minimize flaring to protect our air quality and our communities,” Nastri said. “These enforcement measures will ensure that the Torrance facility and all Southland refineries achieve that goal.”

The SCAQMD is the air pollution control agency for Orange County and major portions of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

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