SCAQMD Hearing Board Adopts Order to Allow ExxonMobil to Restart Major Processing Unit

April 5, 2016

ExxonMobil to Pay Approximately $5 Million for Air Pollution Violations

In a vote of 3-2, the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s Hearing Board tonight issued an order that protects public health while allowing ExxonMobil’s Torrance refinery to restart operations after a February 2015 explosion destroyed a major pollution control device on a large process unit at the facility.

ExxonMobil will also pay approximately $5 million in penalties for air pollution violations as a result of the 2015 explosion and violations that could occur during the startup of the refinery.  Half of the monies will be earmarked for projects to benefit the communities surrounding the Torrance facility.  SCAQMD’s Governing Board will consider projects to be funded, with an opportunity for public input on proposed projects.

“This approved Order adopted by SCAQMD’s Hearing Board puts in place stringent measures designed to protect the health and safety of nearby residents while the refinery resumes normal operations,” said Kurt Wiese, general counsel for the South Coast Air Quality Management District. “It is also imperative that a substantial portion of penalty fines be directed to benefit the nearby communities. 

Today, the SCAQMD Hearing Board, a five-member, independent and quasi-judicial body, held a hearing and following testimony from SCAQMD, ExxonMobil and the public, issued an Order for Abatement allowing the Torrance facility to restart a major unit known as the fluid catalytic cracking unit (FCCU) and associated equipment, including the air pollution control device that was destroyed in the Feb. 18, 2015 explosion. 

The pollution control device, known as an electrostatic precipitator (ESP), controls fine particulate emissions from the FCCU. Fine particulate pollution is associated with a wide range of serious health effects.

It is anticipated that the restart of the FCCU will result in higher emissions of particulate matter for about six hours longer than allowed by SCAQMD rules and the facility’s Title V permit and under the Order, these six hours cannot occur during school and business hours. Under the Order approved today, ExxonMobil must:

  • Follow a specific start-up sequence designed to minimize excess emissions and ensure a safe restart;

  • Mitigate excess emissions through steps that include but are not limited to:

    • Reducing the throughput from normal operation levels at the facility by about 25 percent down to 100,000 barrels per day during start-up;

    • Shutting down two Coker heaters; and

    • Operating all drift eliminator upgrades to the pretreater, hydrotreater, fuel gas treater, and the north and south coker cooling towers.

The Order additionally requires ExxonMobil to perform emissions source tests during start-up which is not typically required during start-ups, notify the public at least 48 hours in advance of the ESP not being used, retire emission credits for excess nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions for a period of 12 hours during start-up and report all visible emissions or odor complaints from the public to the SCAQMD within 30 minutes of occurring.

Excess emissions of NOx, particulate matter (PM), PM10 and carbon monoxide (CO) are anticipated during start-up operations. Under the Order approved today, ExxonMobil is required to mitigate excess emissions to the maximum extent feasible by taking steps to reduce emissions in other areas of the facility.

SCAQMD staff petitioned the Hearing Board to approve today’s Order, which was jointly negotiated by SCAQMD and ExxonMobil. The Order is in effect until July 29, 2016.

The SCAQMD Hearing Board considers petitions for variances, orders for abatements and certain appeals.

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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