Cal/OSHA Seeks Huge Penalties in Refinery Explosion

The Division of Occupational Safety and Health has cited ExxonMobil Refining for 19 alleged violations following an investigation into the February 18 explosion at the company’s Torrance refinery. The incident only slightly injured four workers, but investigators concluded that management had been aware of hazardous conditions at the unit in question, yet took no steps to correct them.

Included in the citations were six alleged willful violations. DOSH seeks $566,600 in penalties in the case.

The explosion occurred after hydrocarbons from a cracker unit leaked into an electrostatic precipitator. DOSH says that as far back as 2007, the refinery identified flammable vapor leakage into the precipitator as a problem area, but the facility “failed to correct the danger.”

The six willful-serious violations, which each come with proposed $70,000 penalties, allege that ExxonMobil:

  • Failed to isolate or repair the leaking heat exchanger tube bundle;
  • Failed to isolate the main column on the fluid catalytic cracker or empty its contents prior to starting maintenance on a flue gas expander during an emergency shutdown;
  • Used a defective spent catalyst slide valve during the shutdown;
  • Did not ensure that the refinery’s mechanical integrity program was implemented and followed;
  • Failed to take precautions to prevent ignition during the FCC emergency shutdown; and
  • Failed to implement an emergency shutdown procedure that would have maintained a barrier between the main column and FCC reactor.

DOSH also cited ExxonMobil for 12 serious violations, with proposed penalties ranging from $7,200 to $21,600 each, as well as one general violation and $800 penalty.