Another Fire Erupts at Torrance Refinery
A fire erupted at the Torrance refinery on the two-year anniversary of the more notorious explosion at the same facility. The previous explosion injured facility workers and showered neighboring properties with industrial debris. Activists had been on their way to the site to protest the current and continued use of toxic hydrofluoric acid when the refinery fire broke out.
“Another fire? Really?” said one sign held by the chanting marchers. Organizers estimated at least 400 protesters participated in the rally.
According to Torrance Assistant Fire Chief Steve Treks, employees reported a fire at 6 a.m. in the plant’s crude oil unit — likely the resultant of a currently unconfirmed explosion. Three dozen firefighters extinguished the flames, some reportedly shooting as high as 40 feet, within thirty minutes. Refinery spokes personnel reported no injuries or evacuations and that the refinery continued operations with exception to the impacted crude unit.
Ongoing Investigations From 2015
Investigations into the 2015 explosion at the then-ExxonMobile facility continue to today. While the injuries and resulting damages were mild, experts say the massive blast could have caused a catastrophic release of highly toxic hydrofluoric acid. Such a release could kill and injure thousands of residents in the neighborhoods surrounding the facility.
The facility is currently owned and operated by PBF Energy, yet issues continue to plague the refinery. In recent months, leaks, power outages, and excessive flaring have plagued the refinery. These ‘mishaps’, as well as this most recent fire, have added fuel to activists’ push for greater oversight and accountability. Opponents argue that the refinery is a safety and environmental risk to the community.
“Congresswoman Maxine Waters and I requested the U.S. Chemical Safety Board to investigate the explosion two years ago,” U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu said in a statement issued at the rally. “They have not yet completed their final investigation, and I will be asking the Chemical Safety Board to include today’s fire and explosion as part of their investigation.”
Lieu repeated the group’s urging for the phasing out of toxic modified hydrofluoric acid in California refineries. “I urge SCAQMD [South Coast Air Quality Management District] to act with urgency,” Lieu continued. “Refineries are not supposed to have explosions. We need to ban MHF as soon as possible. God may not warn us again.”
The Torrance refinery and another facility in Wilmington are the only California refineries to use the chemical.