A federal appeals court panel ruled that ExxonMobil Oil Corp. must provide information to the U.S. Chemical Safety Board relating to a tank filled with hydrofluoric acid that narrowly escaped damage during a 2015 refinery explosion in Torrance, it was announced Tuesday.
An explosion in the refinery’s fluid catalytic cracking unit on Feb. 18, 2015, shook the surrounding area with the force of a 1.7-magnitude earthquake and propelled a 40-ton piece of debris about 100 feet, where it landed within five feet of a tank containing thousands of gallons of modified hydrofluoric acid, according to the CSB.
Hydrofluoric acid is a highly corrosive liquid that dissolves glass. Breathing it can cause lung damage and skin contact can cause severe burns and death. The CSB issued subpoenas for information regarding the contents of the tank, citing hazards and related safety concerns. According to the CSB, ExxonMobil refused to provide this information, and a lower court had ruled that the information was not sufficiently relevant to the agency’s investigation.
In the Monday ruling, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the board’s position that the subpoenas related to the modified hydrofluoric acid tank were relevant and within the board’s authority.
ExxonMobil said in a statement it was “currently reviewing the decision and considering next steps.”
The CSB stated that the agency is “hopeful that Exxon will cooperate in providing information on the HF tanks to the CSB as promptly as possible, just as it has cooperated in the past.”
With the information, the CSB will be able to complete a critical part of its investigation into the Torrance refinery explosion that has been stalled due to litigation, according to the agency.
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