Environment & Science

Torrance Refinery agrees on step to reduce flaring

A gigantic flare lit up the early morning sky around the Torrance Refinery Oct. 11, 2016
A gigantic flare lit up the early morning sky around the Torrance Refinery Oct. 11, 2016
NBC Los Angeles

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The Torrance Refinery has reached agreement in principle with local air quality regulators to upgrade its internal electrical power supply. The idea is to keep the facility online during local blackouts, so that it doesn't have to shut down and flare off excess toxic gas.

The most recent of several flaring incidents occurred after the South Bay experienced an outage on the morning of Oct. 11. The refinery shut down, and the resultant gigantic flare could be seen for miles. Flaring spews additional toxins into the air and creates a fire hazard at the refinery.

The refinery and the South Coast Air Quality Management District say they will try to hammer out the specifics of the agreement before an AQMD hearing scheduled for December 8.

Sally Hayati, the head of the local watchdog group the Torrance Refinery Action Alliance, said a power upgrade would help, but not completely resolve, the problem of excess flaring.

“The recent ones have been due to power outages, but that is part of the problem, a serious one, but not apparently the main contributor, said Hayati.”

The refinery has had unplanned flaring a number of times in the last couple of years due to equipment breakdowns and computer glitches.

Refinery spokeswoman Betsy Brien declined to be interviewed, but issued a statement saying the refinery will work cooperatively with SoCal Edison and the AQMD to improve its power grid.

The former Exxon-Mobil Refinery, renamed Torrance Refinery since its purchase by PBF Energy, has been plagued by power shutdowns outside the plant. There have been at least three so far this year.

The outages can be caused by simple incidents, as on March 16 when a Mylar balloon struck a power line outside the refinery and disrupted the plant's power supply. On Sept. 19, heavy fog caused power lines to arc and shut down power to the refinery and more than 57,000 customers.

On Oct. 11, a 24-minute outage caused by a wiring error at the La Fresa substation cut power to the refinery and some 100,000 other customers across the South Bay. The flaring was so extensive, belching giant flames and black smoke, that city officials closed surrounding streets and asked residents to take shelter indoors until it had dissipated.