Fire Breaks Out At Torrance Refinery On 2-Year Mark Of Blast

TORRANCE (CBSLA.com/AP) – An explosion and fire erupted Saturday at a Torrance oil refinery, exactly two years after a blast that crippled the plant and led to higher gasoline prices, authorities said.

No injuries were reported from the Torrance Refining Com at 3700 W. 190th St. and there were no evacuations or damage to any buildings outside the refinery, Assistant Fire Chief Steve Treskes said.

Three dozen firefighters using heavy streams of water battled flames that rose 40 feet in the air, and the fire was knocked down in about 30 minutes, Treskes said.

“All safety systems at the refinery operated properly and all personnel are safe and accounted for,” Betsy Brien, a spokeswoman for the refinery owner, New Jersey-based PBF Energy Inc., said in a statement.

There was no immediate word on damage or the cause of the blast. However, most of the refinery continued to operate, Brien said.

The blast came on the anniversary of a Feb. 18, 2015, explosion that slightly injured four contractors, destroyed a large part of the refinery, rocked the neighboring community 20 miles southwest of Los Angeles and sent a fine white ash raining down on nearby homes and cars.

In fact, activists had planned a protest at the plant on Saturday to mark the incident and demand a ban on the use of a highly toxic and volatile chemical, modified hydrofluoric acid.

The 2015 explosion involved a pollution-control device called a precipitator. Federal regulators later concluded that the explosion could have been prevented if managers had taken into account aging safety equipment and shut down a key, spark-generating part of the refinery before attempting repairs elsewhere.

The blast tossed an 80,000-pound piece of equipment within feet of another unit where tens of thousands of pounds of modified hydrofluoric acid were stored in tanks.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board concluded that there was a potential to release a toxic cloud and cause “serious injury or death to many community members.”

California regulators also fined ExxonMobil — then-owner of the refinery — more than $500,000 for safety violations.

Most of the refinery was shut down for more than a year, leading to a shortage of gas that meets California’s stricter pollution regulations and higher prices at the pump.

Rep. Steve Lu (D – Calif.), issued a statement in response to Saturday’s fire that read in part:

“Exactly two years ago, an explosion at the Torrance Refinery nearly resulted in a catastrophic disaster that would have released deadly modified hydroflouric acid (MHF) into the surrounding South Bay communities. It was an Act of God that helped prevent an 80,000 pound piece of equipment from striking and rupturing a MHF tank, which could have resulted in over 100,000 deaths or injuries. On the anniversary of that explosion, we get another explosion and a fire. It is completely unacceptable to have deadly MHF at failing refineries.”

“Congresswoman Maxine Waters and I requested the U.S. Chemical Safety Board to investigate the explosion two years ago. 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.”

Two other incidents were reported in the fall of 2015. One involved a leak of modified hydrofluoric acid and the other a leak in a pressurized pipe that created a large steam cloud. No injuries were reported.

The refinery sits on 750 acres and produces 1.8 billion gallons of gasoline a year, which accounts for about 8.3 percent of the state’s total refining capacity.

 

(TM and © Copyright 2017 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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