Environment & Science

Restart of ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance delayed until Monday

An explosion at an ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance caused four minor injuries on Wednesday, February 18, 2015.
An explosion at an ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance caused four minor injuries on Wednesday, February 18, 2015.
Daniella Segura/KPCC

After a 48-hour delay, ExxonMobil is expected to restart its Torrance refinery Monday night, more than a year after an explosion damaged the facility and rained ash on the surrounding area.

The refinery at 3700 W. 190th St. has been largely offline ever since the explosion on Feb. 18,  2015, that resulted in minor injuries to four contractors.

The explosion damaged a piece of equipment called an electrostatic precipitator, or ESP, which is an emission control device that removes fine particles from exhaust gas.

At the beginning of April the South Coast Air Quality Management District's hearing board voted, 3-2, in favor of allowing the refinery to restart. The decision included stipulations that ExxonMobil would be fined $5 million and required to follow a procedure that would limit emissions at the restart of the refinery. 

South Coast AQMD spokesman Sam Atwood said air-quality regulators will be keeping tabs on the start-up operation, which is scheduled to begin at about 7 p.m., and they will monitor emissions until its expected conclusion at about 7 a.m. on Tuesday.

To restart the facility on Monday, the refinery's pollution monitoring system will have to be shut off for about six hours. Atwood acknowledged that residents living near the refinery are worried about shutting down the control system, but the operation should be safe.

"Certainly residents who were present in Torrance and perhaps close to the refinery at the time of the explosion experienced a lot of dust falling out onto their property, but this is not going to repeat that situation in any shape or form," Atwood said.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, which investigates workplace accidents, cited and fined ExxonMobil more than $560,000 for health and workplace safety violations following a probe into the explosion. 

Cal/OSHA said 18 of the 19 citations it issued were for violations classified as serious because they could potentially cause serious injury or death. Six of those serious violations were also classified as willful because Cal/OSHA found that Exxon did not take action to eliminate known hazardous conditions at the refinery.

The 750-acre refinery was sold to New Jersey-based oil refining company PBF Energy in September. The $527.5 million deal was expected to close in the second quarter of this year.

The 750-acre refinery has had a capacity of 155,000 barrels per day, about 10 percent of California's gasoline supply. With the purchase, PBF said it plans to increase capacity to about 900,000 barrels per day.