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USA – ExxonMobil Settles Over 2015 Torrance Refinery Blast

USA – ExxonMobil Settles Over 2015 Torrance Refinery Blast

ExxonMobil will pay $566,600 in a settlement with California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health for eight safety and workplace violations levied in the wake of the February 2015 fire and explosion that tore through the Torrance refinery.

The explosion narrowly missed tanks containing a modified form of hydrofluoric acid and the refinery’s subsequent shutdown raised the price of gas in the region, according to a Bloomberg Environment report.

As part of the settlement announced last week, all willful violations among the original 24 citations initially announced were either reduced to the next level, serious, or withdrawn, agency officials said, although the total fine remained unchanged.

ExxonMobil announced the sale of the refinery to New Jersey-based PBF Energy later in 2015.

“PBF Energy subsequently invested over $800 million for refinery upgrades and employee training at the Torrance facility and agreed to abate the citations Cal/OSHA issued to ExxonMobil,” Clyde Trombettas, manager of Cal/OSHA’s Process Safety Management Unit, said an emailed statement Friday, Feb. 1.

“During settlement discussions with ExxonMobil, it was agreed that Cal/OSHA would reclassify or withdraw six willful citations, but keep the $566,600 in penalties as originally proposed,” he added. “ExxonMobil further donated $125,000 to the Torrance Fire Department to purchase personnel monitors and a drone and donated $125,000 to the Certified Unified Program Agency to train California Accidental Release Program representatives on petroleum refinery enforcement.”

ExxonMobil officials did not return phone and email messages Friday seeking comment.

After the fine was first announced four years ago, company officials said little except to say ExxonMobil would review its legal options.

CAL/OSHA determined the company failed to fix known hazardous conditions and intentionally failed to comply with state safety standards.

Trombettas described the company’s inaction as “pretty egregious” when the fine was initially levied in 2015, adding that the “investigation revealed severe lapses in Exxon’s safety protocols.”

One unit at the refinery hadn’t worked properly in almost a decade, according to Cal/OSHA.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board said the explosion almost led to a catastrophic release of the acid that could have killed or injured thousands.

The agency issued a 73-page report in 2017 that placed the blame for the blast fully on ExxonMobil.

“This incident was preventable,” the CSB said at the time. “Effective safeguards were not established to prevent the incident.”

CAL/OSHA later issued a fine of more than $70,000 to ExxonMobil the following year, too, for three similar workplace safety violations, including the company’s failure to fix one piece of equipment for four years, That caused a leak the previous September of highly toxic hydrofluoric acid, investigators said.

The $566,600 fine issued after the 2015 explosion was the maximum the state could issue.

ExxonMobil announced Friday the company earned almost $21 billion last year.

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