exxon oil refinery
A damaged Exxon Mobil refinery in Torrance. Photo by John Schreiber.

Southland oil refineries will soon operate under statewide regulations announced Friday aimed at strengthening workplace and environmental safety.

California has 15 oil refineries, most of which are located in densely populated areas of Los Angeles and the eastern San Francisco Bay Area.

The new standards — developed by the Department of Industrial Relations, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and the California Environmental Protection Agency, will take effect Oct. 1. According to the state, many of the state’s refineries have adopted some of the standards included in the new regulations over the past decade and seen significant improvement in safety performance.

The regulations encompass key recommendations developed by a working group created following the Aug. 6, 2012, Chevron refinery fire in the Bay Area city of Richmond that spread a cloud of toxic smoke over the city and prompted 15,000 residents to seek medical treatment.

The Southland has also been witness to a number of refinery mishaps, most notably the December 1985 explosion and fire at a Carson ARCO refinery that left three people dead and injured 44 others.

Others include:

— a 1987 explosion and two-day fire at a Mobil refinery in Torrance that injured two people and sent metal and flames an estimated 300 feet into the air;

— a 1991 non-injury fire at a Unocal refinery in Wilmington that produced a thick plume of smoke visible miles away;

— a 1992 explosion and blaze at a Texaco refinery in Wilmington that hurt 16 workers, forced several hundred residents to evacuate homes and was felt at least 15 miles away; and

— a 1996 explosion and fire at the Wilmington Texaco plant that rocked boats in San Pedro Harbor.

In 2015, an explosion at the then-ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance sent ash raining down on nearby communities and shut down most of the facility for more than a year.

Such emergencies at refineries also cause disruptions to fuel supplies that are estimated to cost Californians an average of about $800 million a year, according to state authorities.

The new standards represent an overhaul of Cal/OSHA worker safety regulations as they apply to refineries and the California Accidental Release Prevention program, designed to prevent the accidental release of hazardous substances that could affect public health and the environment.

“The goal of these regulations is to hold refineries accountable for the safety of workers and communities,” California Secretary for Environmental Protection Matthew Rodriquez said.

The regulations include stepped-up employer accountability for the mechanical integrity of refinery equipment; requirements to adopt safer designs and systems; more employee involvement in safety programs; periodic workplace safety assessments; and increased authority for refinery workers to shut down a unit if unsafe conditions develop.

State officials said the regulations are the result of a multi-year effort that included public input and consultation with workers, industry representatives and local agencies.

–City News Service

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