Local air regulators toughened rules Friday on “flares” at refineries, including the fuel facility in Torrance which released hundreds of tons of pollutants during flaring events last year.
The process of flaring, which to onlookers appears as a giant flame rising over a facility, is a safety measure that releases pressure at refining units. But it can also release a stew of pollutants and toxins that nearby residents could breathe, officials said.
Regulators said the new rules were intended to protect nearby communities and “set the stage for further emission reductions from refineries in the near future,” Wayne Nastrai, head of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, said in a released statement.
Under the regulations, approved by the district’s governing board, refineries will be forced to limit flaring or face fines. Companies must also look for ways to reduce and eliminate the process completely.
At the same time, the board lifted a $4 million cap on mitigation fees that refineries pay for releasing excess pollutants into the air.
Purpose of Flaring
Flaring is often used during power outages because of the imbalance in pressures created. The process is intended for unplanned chemical emissions and is designed to reduce pollution exposure to the community.
Earlier this year, the AQMD said the Torrance refinery emitted hundreds of tons of smog-causing sulfur oxides into the atmosphere last year, stemming largely from three unexpected power outages.
The new rules arrive as air regulators increasingly clamp down on the region’s petroleum refineries after the February 2015 explosion at the Torrance facility, then owned by ExxonMobil, sparked public outcry.
The refinery, now owned by New Jersey-based PBF Energy, provides about 20 percent of the region’s gasoline and is key to local petroleum markets, industry officials say.
Refinery Seeks Cooperation
Betsy Brien, a spokeswoman for PBF’s Western Region, said the company is prepared “to work with the rules that the district has in place.”
But, she added, there must be continued cooperation between business and regulators.
Federal and state authorities investigating the explosion found that Torrance refinery had a poor safety record and nearly created a catastrophic situation that could have released dangerous hydrofluoric acid into the community.
Those revelations and community anger put pressure on local regulators who, after years of hearings on the safety of Southland refineries, will consider banning hydrofluoric acid later this year.
Regulators will also consider imposing air pollution monitoring at the fence line of refineries, aiming to reveal how much pollutants neighbors take in.
Some aren’t convinced that the new rules, which coincide with federal efforts, go far enough.
“We appreciate the rule tightening on flares. They were inclusive with the community and it was a good process, but the district still left in a big loophole allowing for drastic under-reporting of certain flaring operations that can release significant levels of smog-forming chemicals that cause asthma,” said Julia May, a scientist at Communities for a Better Environment, a Huntington Park-based environmental justice group.
“This matters for everybody who breathes,” May said, “especially for refinery neighbors with asthma.”
*Original article online at http://www.presstelegram.com/business/20170707/air-quality-regulators-clamp-down-on-refinery-flaring-practices